The Palo Alto school board will discuss on Tuesday a $3 million shortfall from "unforeseen" reductions and spending due to the coronavirus, trends that district staff warn are sure to continue for the next several years.
The school district has lost an estimated $1.7 million out of its $256 million total budget, according to a staff report. With all of its campuses shut down, the district has lost revenue from school lunches and facilities that would usually bring in rent from outside groups who use them for summer camps and after-school programs.
Meanwhile, adjusting operations to the coronavirus has cost the district about $1 million, including developing distance learning, providing resources for remote working conditions, purchasing $16,000 worth of hand sanitizer and paying salaries for workers who are considered essential.
Closing schools means some cost savings — an estimated $445,000 from reduced utility costs, less gas for school buses and staff attending conferences that have been canceled, according to a staff report.
Staff will present on Tuesday several financial scenarios to the board for discussion, including potential budget cuts for the next school year. Under the more extreme scenario, cuts, including to certificated and classified staff, would total about $3.7 million.
Staff anticipates the coronavirus will have ripple effects on the district's budget for years to come and are recommending the creation of a $500,000 contingency fund to address emergency COVID-19 expenditures in the 2020-21 school year, such as purchasing masks for staff and students. Questions around when local schools will be able to reopen, what they will look like, and how many students will actually return and what that means for the district's financial health remain unanswered.
"There are numerous unknown factors at this time which will impact the 2020-21 budget," Chief Business Officer Carolyn Chow wrote in a staff report. "We do not have all the answers for how we will be required to open school in the fall. We will not know our property tax revenue by the time the budget needs to be adopted. We do not know the full impact that reduced facility rentals and leases will have on the budget. We cannot with great accuracy predict how many students will return to school once the shelter-in-place is lifted."
The city of Palo Alto, which is facing a $38.8 million shortfall, is considering budget cuts that could impact the school district, either financially or through services. The board will discuss items under consideration by the city that would affect the school district, including the city's lease of Cubberley Community Center land, city shuttles, school resource officers, art center programs and teen programs.
The board will also consider on Tuesday applying for federal disaster relief funding for reimbursement for "eligible emergency protective measures taken to respond to the COVID-19 emergency."
Tuesday's virtual meeting will also include a staff update on COVID-19, including attendance, teacher feedback, summer school and reopening plans.
Superintendent Don Austin said on Twitter Monday that his team is considering three reopening scenarios: reopening with no restrictions ("doubtful"), with a blended approach and modified schedules ("likely") or with only virtual instruction ("hope not").
Austin is planning to devote his next weekly webinar on May 18 to reopening schools and will use a tool to solicit live, public feedback during the virtual event.
The May 12 board meeting will begin virtually at 6:30 p.m. The public can watch and participate via Zoom or telephone by dialing 669-900-6833, entering Meeting ID 987 7373 7297, then press #. Meetings are also broadcast on local cable television channel 28 and live-streamed at midpenmedia.org.
View the full agenda here.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.