Hybrid of remote, in-person school costs more due to staffing, technology

By LAURA WEICK
Posted 7/31/20

When looking at additions to the Warwick school budget for COVID-19 adjustments, some have wondered why returning to school would cost the school department an additional $15.7 million - and why learning at home would add $3 million to

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Hybrid of remote, in-person school costs more due to staffing, technology

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When looking at additions to the Warwick school budget for COVID-19 adjustments, some have wondered why returning to school would cost the school department an additional $15.7 million - and why learning at home would add $3 million to the pre-established budget.

The added $15.7 million is for the favored hybrid learning model. This includes $4.7 million for facilities funding, $2.2 million for human resources, $2 million for secondary education and $3.5 million for transportation and food services.

A full return to school would cost $15.3 million, and would call for even more funding for facilities, but less for technology, transportation and food service.

A fully remote school year would be less expensive at $3 million, but would still require additional funding in food and transportation, technology and special education compared to the pre-COVID-19 budget.

According to Anthony Ferrucci, school budget officer, the highest new expense, facilities, mostly addresses cleaning, rearranging classrooms and improving parts of school infrastructure to meet social distancing guidelines.

 The additional funding needed for technology in both the remote and hybrid options were partially due to outdated equipment.

“On virtual learning, we need more devices and more hotspots out into the community,” Ferrucci said. “We came up short at the elementary level because we did not have enough physical devices, while others are getting too old to be used anymore. There’s more technology demand on the virtual side.”

Software was also another major expense for virtual or hybrid learning.

“We ended up getting a lot of free use last year because we thought it was only going to be for a couple of months, but over the summer we were told that a lot of products we would have to pay for now,” Ferrucci said.

Ferrucci said that food services were most expensive in the hybrid model because school cafeterias would not receive as much revenue to balance for providing lunches. In a fully remote model, however, only students in school lunch programs would need lunches provided. 

“In the schools when we’re serving lunch, we are making revenue, so when we are moving virtual and people come and pick up lunches, we are not charging, so there is an absorption of those costs,” Ferrucci said.

Human resources refers to new employees hired. IF schools were to be held in person to any extent, Ferrucci said that the schools would have to hire more people to maintain sanitation and social distancing guidelines. 

“It’s all the guidelines that are being implemented,” Ferrucci said. “The arrival of students early is requiring more staff in the buildings to keep them separate,” Ferrucci explained.  “High contact areas like bathrooms require at least one if not two custodians, and their salaries are around $50,000 each year, so that’s about $2 million right there. More importantly, the population that typically is involved in the food services and building aide program are typically older because they are shorter workshifts, so having a more vulnerable population makes is difficult to keep them safe.”

However, Ferrucci said that the final direction the budget takes depends on state and federal mandates. 

“The only thing I find really challenging from a budget perspective is the lack of financial commitment at this stage of the game,” Ferrucci said. “The state has announced $1.7 million available to help open schools [in Warwick] with COVID issues, but they haven’t sent out the process or how to apply for the money. The state legislature has not gone on record about how much they’ll be able to give school departments in state aid. If they go like last year and cut state aid, COVID money will have to be used in the local budget to fill the holes. I’ve been told that the reason why there are a ton of problems is because the state is waiting on the feds to see if there will be a second stimulus package. So that domino effect in Washington doesn’t allow the state to make a decision, so they can’t tell us how to get money, so we can’t make decisions.”

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