Carteret County’s schools budget of $93.5 million represents a shot in the dark as the county school board and administration navigate around numerous unknowns in both expenses and income resulting from teaching under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic. But the county school leaders should give more thought about how to use the $649,209 federal CARES Act funding.
School budgets are usually affected by the previous year’s budget and by lessons learned during that year. But this time there is no template to follow and many new questions to answer. Will students be able to return to what has been a typical school schedule before the year is out? Will extra-curricular school activities such as athletics and band, to name a few, be available as students try to engage the new environment?
These questions are obviously top of the mind concerns but they ignore the potential of a long term failing in the educational experience for students K-12 who are now learning in a totally untested and undocumented environment. In light of all the unknowns, school administrators should look to use federal funds to help address the possibility of remediation that will be needed as students work through a variety of challenges ahead for this year, and possibly years to come.
Students are experiencing a different educational environment fraught with disruptions and disparities. The disruption comes in the form of interrupted classroom schedules with those students attending school with the hybrid schedule – two days in the classroom and three days remote- having to maintain focus while experiencing different learning environments.
On the other hand, those students attending school in a virtual or remote classroom, while enjoying a consistent learning environment, usually at home, are lacking the one on one teacher experience that most have enjoyed by being in the classroom. This circumstance heightens the disparity because the students working remotely may also have additional distractions added to the lack of immediate teacher engagement.
These two environments are unique for both teachers and students and there is every reason to expect students will have a reduced educational experience and as a result a reduced comprehension and retention of their school work. And then there is still the question as to how well students were taught during the spring semester after they were unexpectedly sent home in March in response to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
These unknowns will only become apparent as the students matriculate to the next grade level and at that time teachers will be able to assess the students’ abilities. Given the speed with which changes have been made in the day-to-day operations for public schools and the variety of challenges teachers and students are dealing with, it is obvious that there will be shortcomings.
There are numerous uses for the almost $650,000 federal CARES Act funds such as expenses associated with automated temperature check, PPE (personal protective equipment) and the addition of part-time nursing staff. But some of these expenses should be borne by the standard operational budget since they do impact the day-to-day operation of county schools.
The county school board and administration would be wise to begin funding remedial programs to aid students who are falling behind because of the new educational environment. Arguably it will be difficult to identify those students needing academic assistance but the schools should immediately initiate a means for identifying those students. Any delay will be costly in the years ahead and for some students too late, as they graduate and begin living their lives as adults without an adequate education.