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El Paso County Colorado District 49

D 49 ó the new normal

COVID 19 has led to many changes in the school systems, from online classes exclusively to hybrid classes to teachers and some students wearing masks. This past spring, the state also cancelled the College Board PSAT and SAT assessments that juniors and seniors usually take to prepare for college.After a couple months of school with these changes and more, how is El Paso County Colorado School District 49 dealing with COVID?TestingAmber Whetstine, D 49 executive director of educational services, said to this date there are no proposed changes at the state level for the required testing that occurs during the second semester each year. District 49 already completed the state-required Early Literacy Assessments within the first weeks of school for kindergarten through third-grade students. She said this year there will be flexibility with the state required school-readiness assessments for kindergarten students.Districts will not be required to report these results to the Colorado Department of Education, although they are required to implement the assessments to the best of their ability. ìWe know some kindergarten families are reluctant to send their children to school in person, so the results of this assessment may not be as valuable from a statewide perspective as in previous years,î Whetstine said. District 49 is encouraging teachers to do their best and be flexible and supportive of families in assessing the readiness skills of kindergarten students, she said.Almost all families have chosen to have their students tested in person for the elementary-level assessments, even those students who are opting for an online experience. ìWe are making adaptations to our processes for families that cannot or are not willing to have the tests administered in person,î Whetstine said. For example, some of the assessments are available to be virtually administered by a teacher; in other cases, schools are coordinating with families to schedule in-person assessments off hours when other students are not in the building. They have also extended the timeline for the completions of beginning-of-the-year assessments, she said.English learners, students who have learned a language other than English as their first language, will take the state-required ACCESS or Assessing Comprehension and Communication in English State-to-State†test in early January. The Colorado Measures of Academic Success is scheduled to take place as usual in March and April and College Board Assessments for ninth to 11th graders are planned for April. Juniors and seniors can take the PSAT and SAT tests this fall. Whetstine said while these are not a requirement, many students and families rely on these tests for college preparation.She said, as always, parents have the right to opt their student/s out of state assessments.EnrollmentBrett Ridgway, chief business officer for D 49, said, ìWe are experiencing the same decrease in traditional enrollment that districts are experiencing statewide. Although we are seeing upticks in enrollment to our blended learning campuses and our home school program, along with some families choosing to enroll in one of our authorized charters, there is not a known common denominator to account for the significant decrease in enrollment.îBudgetRidgway said because of the COVID-19 recession the budget for the 2020-2021 school year has been impacted. Operated schools (schools that are not charter schools, said Ridgway) cut $4.9 million from their budget while charter/contract schools projected growth will exceed per-pupil revenue cuts by $2.7 million. He said they also implemented a pay freeze for everyone; in addition, each chief officer voluntarily donated $6,000 of their 2020-2021 base salary back to the district to cover nominal COVID-related expenses. Operated schools had a net 85 positions lost because of attrition, he said.ìWith this recession, as with any prior, we adjust to the new reality and are launching off of that new reality toward growth in the subsequent year ó assuming, of course there are no additional cuts to funding,î Ridgway said. ìOnline education, as you might imagine, is going to grow even more in 2020-21 than its previous steady pace. As a result, we are projecting something close to 4% overall, led by 12-15% growth in online programs.He said D 49 declared a fiscal emergency, but did not declare a fiscal exigency. Ridgway defined the latter. ìA fiscal exigency can be declared if an event, or condition such as a decline in student enrollment, restriction on revenues, or increased costs may cause the districtís current, or projected budget to be insufficient to adequately meet the districtís current or projected needs. A board-approved declaration of fiscal exigency gives the district†the path to cancel contractual relationships,†real or implied,†for both vendors and employees.ìThe fiscal emergency is an appropriate step to validate the strategies and decisions to deal with the revenue shortfall that did not include releasing employees,î Ridgway said. ìItems like the freeze in pay, the strategy to not replace selected voluntarily vacated positions, and such that were necessary to reduce expenses and balance the budget overall.î

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