Federal funding will not fully cover expenses linked to COVID-19 that the Orange City School District expects to incur this fall, Treasurer Todd Puster said.
Although the district saved money in some areas this past year, such as substitute teachers and bus fuel, there are many more forthcoming expenses anticipated to maintain a safe and effective learning environment for the students when schools open for the 2020-2021 academic year, he said.
The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act was designed to funnel money to municipalities and school districts to help offset spending due to COVID-19.
Mr. Puster said that he is expecting many “budgetary pressures” in fiscal year 2021, which started on July 1 and will end June 30, 2021. The main expenses, Mr. Puster said, include personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, transportation and personnel costs.
Mr. Puster said that Orange will receive $168,000 from the CARES Act but must share $44,000 with non-public schools in the district, leaving Orange with $124,000. Superintendent Lynn Campbell said that some expenses are not new, but will likely increase this year, such as transportation and substitute teachers.
“We’re going to incur many more costs, as Dr. Campbell has said, than the CARES Act money is going to fund,” Mr. Puster said at the Audit and Finance Committee meeting on July 9.
Mr. Puster said that Director of Business Operations Ted Roseberry has been working with several suppliers so that the Orange schools will be a priority customer for essential supplies.
“One of the things that’s factoring into our decisions is frankly to ensure that we have a consistent supply chain for some of these items,” Mr. Puster said. For example, he explained that it may not be a good idea to buy the cheapest hand sanitizer because different solutions can be less effective or ineffective.
Dr. Campbell said that he met with legal counsel from Walter Haverfield last week, who said that there may also be additional costs for human resources. For example, he said that a medical assistant could be necessary if the schools need to screen people for COVID-19 symptoms.
Mr. Puster said that the district ended the fiscal year on June 30 with a higher cash balance than expected. He said that 90 percent of the district’s revenue is from property taxes, which were paid before the coronavirus pandemic began in March. Orange schools also serve as the fiscal officer for the Suburban Health Consortium, and rates increased by 5 percent instead of 10 percent.
In addition, Orange contracts with Rachel Wixey & Associates for substitute teachers and saved $100,000 compared to last year because the last quarter of the school year was virtual, he said. Orange also saved about $40,000 on bus fuel, a 24-percent decrease.
“That caused our cash balance to be a little higher than forecasted. While these numbers are true, I don’t want anybody to think that this is a good thing,” Mr. Puster said. “We’re going to incur some significant costs related to restarting school.”
Board member Jeff Leikin suggested a cost-saving transportation alternative. “In terms of cost saving with the transportation, maybe we don’t pick everybody up at the end of their driveways. We [could] have centralized stops in neighborhoods.”
Mr. Puster said that the school board purchased four new buses, which were supposed to arrive by now, but the process was delayed by the pandemic. He said that the district probably will not receive the new buses until the fall, but the four older buses have not been decommissioned yet.
Board member Melanie Weltman said that as long as they are still safe, it may be helpful to keep the older buses to help spread out the children more across transportation routes.
The next audit and finance committee meeting is on Sept. 10 at 8:30 a.m.