Editor’s note: An incorrect grant program was listed as a potential funding source for the district. The program listed has been corrected the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund. The program is through the CARES Act. 

BROOKINGS – The COVID-19 pandemic continues to create difficulties and unknowns for the Brookings School District, even as administrators work on the budget for the next school year.

The Brookings School Board unanimously approved 2020-2021 General Budget Enhancements, Adjustments, and Revenues and the 2020-2021 Capital Outlay Budget proposal last week, but the overall budget will still come back to the board later this summer for final approval.

“We’ve deferred this process to this point simply because we did not know what to expect relative to the state and what was going to occur as a result of the pandemic; and here we sit now in mid-June knowing that we have a July budget developed and ready to present,” Superintendent Klint Willert said.

The proposed 2020-2021 budget includes the 2% increase in state aid, per state law.

“It also reflects what we have done for student enrollment projections, factoring a three-year rolling average rather than going with the straight that was provided and created by the state demographer of South Dakota. So it does reflect an increase of enrollment by 22 students,” Willert said.

Willert said the high school has received many of the enhancements because of an additional 50 students anticipated there for the next academic year.

Willert also said the district plans on hiring a social worker. He said a social worker will be there to assist students and parents through the social and emotional issues that families face during the pandemic.

“Equally, we know that we are looking at some options and alternatives to provide our students additional support academically, for those students who may have fallen behind academically. One of the things that our team has met on – our administrative team has talked extensively about – is using and applying that lens of equity and how we go about doing that,” Willert said. “We know that not all students will be impacted equally in terms of direct instruction with the teacher – so we really want to differentiate and find some potential services.”

Funding for potential academic assistance will come via the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act or from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund. Willert expressed concern that CARES is a one-time source of funding.

“Probably the greatest concern if you were to ask me today … it would be the anticipated growth. We know that there are some projections out there that anticipate growth. … At the same time, we also know that, given this transition that we’ve had with the remote learning, there are some families that if we do not provide some remote option or alternative, they may elect to continue the remote learning, but rather than with the public school they would use a home school option,” Willert said.

Willert noted that instability due to the pandemic has led to uncertainty in how the Brookings School District’s budget will pan out.

Potential budgetary factors include screening items, like thermometers for students coming into the school and personal protective equipment, items for which the district has already spent $50,000. Director of Business Services Brian Lueders said they have purchased 40,000 masks which, when used by each staff and faculty member and student, would last only 10 days as the masks are only good for a short period of time.

Willert and the school board shared their concerns over students’ abilities to retain information throughout remote learning and the mental health impact on students, and how they will address those issues.

Board member Wes Tschetter said he wants to see a more definite plan for how the next year’s budget is going to function.

“I just feel really strongly about that we need to have you come back with a plan and work with the board and chair and invest in our staffing this fall and get the word out soon so that other teachers and staff can plan accordingly,” Tschetter said. “This may mean reducing our student-to-teacher ratio in a priority setting. … I just think that this is a critical juncture that this board has to deal with now.”

The superintendent again focused on equity. “And I emphasize that word equity, because not every child is going to need the same level of intervention,” Willert said.

He pointed out that a lot of responsibility for a child’s education falls on the efforts of parents, who are willing and wanting a good education for their children.

With so many different options available to the school district, Willert said there is still ambiguity on how to proceed with the next school year. 

“Trying to figure out what’s the best and most appropriate way to launch into the new school year. And there have not been great pieces of guidance coming from what I would hope was more of a centralized perspective, the state Department of Education,” Willert said.

Willert is still preparing his final proposal for the July 20 meeting on how school would begin this fall.

For more information, visit https://agendas.brookings.k12.sd.us/, and to watch the meeting, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjCL06QaW3E.

Contact Matthew Rhodes at mrhodes@brookingsregister.com.

COURTESY OF: The Brookings Register

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