Proposed 2021-22 budget raises taxes an estimated 3.2%
By Karen Carr Keefe
Grand Island’s elementary school students head back to the classroom five days a week starting Monday, April 26.
Schools Superintendent Brian Graham, calling the change “exciting news,” made the announcement at Monday’s school board meeting. The younger students’ return was made possible last Friday, April 19, when the state Health Department said they can be seated 3 feet apart in class while wearing masks, instead of the earlier COVID-19 restriction of 6 feet between students. New state guidance was based on recommendations last month from the Centers for Disease Control.
Board member Nicole Novak said, “It’s great to have all these kids coming back to school and walking through the hallways.”
However, Graham said the district’s middle and high schoolers can’t go back five days a week, because Grand Island is in a high-transmission zone for COVID-19, keeping the 6-foot distance rule in effect. The CDC guidance said the risk for on-site transmission is lower for younger students than for teenagers. Because the district doesn’t have the physical space to accommodate the 6-foot social distancing for all the older students, they will remain in the hybrid learning model for now.
There are two ways the older students can return full-time:
•If the rate of COVID-19 positivity for Erie County drops below 100 per 100,000 people.
•If students attend all classes in a cohort – or small group, rather than branching out to a series of separate classes throughout the school day. But that’s just not the way middle schools and high schools work.
In the meantime, all students from sixth grade through high school will receive their lessons in synchronous fashion through livecasting five days a week.
The district will submit the modified plan for five-day-a-week, in-person instruction for elementary school students to the state and county health departments and also will ask for public input.
Graham said the information he presented in detail to the school board Monday would also be made available as a video online Tuesday, April 13, to all stakeholders – parents, students, community members, teachers, administrators and staff. An accompanying survey was prepared for Tuesday to gather feedback.
The district scheduled a parent-and-stakeholders virtual meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, with an opportunity to answer questions about the changes.
Board Adopts $67M Proposed Budget; Up for Vote May 18
Meanwhile, the School Board unanimously adopted a proposed 2021-22 budget that would increase taxes by an estimated 63 cents, to $20.41 per $1,000 of assessed value, up from an actual rate of $19.78 per thousand for 2020-21. That estimated tax rate would be a 3.2% increase over last year. The actual tax rate will be set in July or August, after the town reports finalized assessed property values.
Rubie Harris, assistant superintendent for business and finance, said a federal aid has closed the district’s previous budget gap of $1.1 million. The general fund budget before voters is set at $67,118,207. Other items that can be covered by federal funds received, such as those for salaries, summer school and COVID-19 expenses, will be shifted to the federal aid side of the budget, Harris said.
A school budget public hearing will be held May 10.
The public vote on the budget and School Board candidates is set for Tuesday, May 18. There also will be a proposition to provide additional funds to replace school buses. The cost of the replacement vehicles was originally set at $685,000 in the 2020-21 budget, but the total cost increased to $710,000 in the upcoming budget year, for an additional cost of $25,000. The increase is to replace three more vehicles that now need to be replaced. The budget impact from the increase would hit in 2022-23, Harris explained.