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COVID-19 Costs, Early-Release Wednesdays Topics For BOE



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With possible costs for COVID-19 still unknown, the Board of Education supported a district plan to release kindergarten to sixth grade students two hours early on Wednesdays and discussed other topics at its September 24 special meeting.

Following a recent Board of Finance failed motion that stopped $1.3 million of 2019-20 school district surplus funds from being transferred to a school district non-lapsing account, as previously reported in The Newtown Bee, BOE Chair Michelle Embree Ku explained discussion on those funds was expected to be taken up by the Board of Finance and Legislative Council.

She also asked her board if there were other ideas for dealing with anticipated COVID-19-related expenses for the 2020-21 school year. District Director of Business Tanja Vadas explained that while trying to anticipate costs and offsetting savings, the district is “coming close” to the expected $1.5 million in estimated COVID-19-related expenses.

“We have to kind of sit tight and wait for some more information to come,” shared Vadas, adding that a “better picture” would be available in the coming weeks.

After further discussion — which included ideas to have continued updates shared at school board meetings on known COVID-19 expenses — board members agreed to wait until near the end of October for more information before making decisions.

The special meeting also included discussion on changes to the Board of Education’s budget meetings calendar, but no decisions were made.

The topic of potentially restructuring the district and town business offices was picked up later, with Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Rodrigue explaining First Selectman Dan Rosenthal informally brought up the idea to rethink oversight of responsibilities. Rodrigue said she reached out to other towns that have different business office structures, with the town and school district business office duties combined. Those towns, she added, are smaller than Newtown. While Rodrigue said she sees the intent of restructuring, she added that she is not clear on its benefit or potential cost savings for Newtown.

Board member Deborra Zukowski responded by saying she would need to see the direct benefits of restructuring and questioned whether the district would lose its current decision-making abilities, and board member Debbie Leidlein noted that in Newtown the town and school budgets are voted on separately, while questioning why one person would oversee both given that structure.

Later the school board voted to support, with board Secretary Dan Cruson, Jr, the one vote against the motion, a two-hour early release schedule for Wednesdays for kindergarten to sixth grade students following the return to school full time for those grades on October 5.

The early release schedule, Rodrigue said, would allow teachers time to prepare for instruction and for deep cleaning and sanitization in the buildings.

Both Leidlein and board Vice Chair Dan Delia said that as teachers they know preparation time is precious right now. Some discussion centered around whether there are childcare options for that time.

Cruson explained he did not support the motion due to concerns over a loss of educational time in a year when that is needed. He also agreed it could cause disruption for parents regarding childcare.

Ku said she knows her board is cognizant of impact the two-hour release could have on local parents. District educators, she added, have been doing a “heroic job,” and she “wholeheartedly” backed the motion to support them.

Following the meeting, Dr Rodrigue sent a communication to district parents and care givers on September 25 ahead of the transition of kindergarten to sixth grade students returning to school buildings fulltime from the hybrid model.

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