Monday, December 06, 2021

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Unknowns Continue to Drive BOE Plans for Next Year

By Jarret Liotta

Amid various evolving guidelines and ever-changing anticipations, the Board of Education tonight continued its look at future plans.

“We’re still on track for an October opening,” Don O’Day, chair of the Coleytown Middle School (CMS) Building Committee, said in his report,. He noted they were still on budget and that things were in very good shape overall.

But whether students will have the chance to return there—or anywhere—in the fall remains an unanswerable question.

“We may not be able to come back to school in September,” said Anthony Buono, assistant superintendent for teaching & learning, who is co-chairing the School Reopening Steering Committee (SRSC).

A wide range of school personnel and others are taking part in various SRSC subcommittees in an effort to help plan for next year.

Planning under the assumption that school will not reopen as it normally would in the fall, Buono said the three scenarios under examination include a continuation of a total distance-learning model, a partial return with a limited numbers of students in attendance at any one time, and finally a scenario that will allow for transitions between models.

“If we have to transition at some point during the year, throughout the year, what does that look like?” he said. “How do we achieve that?”

Total distance learning, he said, needs to be redesigned “with a lot more specificity” than was in place through this spring, in the event it is necessary.

Likewise, distance learning would likely have to augment a limited return to school with social distancing, given space restrictions.

“We would have to have some type of blended learning model,” Buono said.

The question was raised as to whether the district should allow families the option of opting out of in-person school for students who might prefer to remain at home.

“That is not included, but that is something that I think definitely should be part of the conversation if the board would like us to pursue or look at something like that,” Buono said.

“We are definitely going to plan for those students who are not going to be able to come,” he said, for health reasons of one kind or another, or issues within the family, “because I believe we’re obligated to.”

Offering parents a choice, however, he said was “a totally different scenario that I think will have significant ramifications on our staffing and the financial impact.”

“If we do have to have this discussion about options … we just have to be very mindful of our capacity to deliver something like that going into the fall,” said John Bayers, director of human resources and general administration, who is co-chairing the SRSC.

As things currently stand nationwide a family can choose to home-school their child, but there are no provisions for online resources if they choose to do so, at least not in Connecticut.

“The state could change their thinking on that,” he said, but given the capacity o f smaller districts in particular he did not think it was likely they would.

“Things are changing constantly in terms of guidance and so forth,” he said.

Bayers said there would be a televised meeting of the SRSC on Wednesday at 2 p.m., with a formal presentation to the BOE to follow next Monday.

Buono said that after the committee gathered feedback from the BOE next week it would reassemble and ultimately hoped to present recommendations by the end of June.

The SRSC will also be surveying parents, students and teachers for feedback about the distance-learning experience.

“Hopefully by the end of the month we’ll have some firm recommendations for you,” Buono said.

In other business the BOE unanimously approved a 2.25% salary increase package next year for 59 different nonunion employees, including various central office administrators, secretaries, custodian heads, occupational and physical therapists.

Superintendent of Schools David Abbey said the increase was “very much in line with the people who are represented by the unions.”

The combined $110,000 raise brings the total salary cost for these positions to $4,980,000 for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

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