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Uncertainty looms over operational costs for schools in coming school year

SALISBURY — Every public school district in the state is preparing and waiting for decisions to be passed down from the state which will inform how schools can operate when classes begin this fall.

But the trio of plans for what classes could look like and the implications they have for logistics and expenditures have left Rowan-Salisbury Schools unable to make cost estimates or specific preparations while it awaits an expected announcement from Gov. Roy Cooper on July 1.

“That is going to affect a lot of the planning work we’ve been doing,” said RSS Assistant Superintendent of Transformation Andrew Smith at a called meeting of the Board of Education Monday.

Two of the three plans pose serious challenges for fundamental services like busing and cleaning. Plan A would allow all students to return to in-person classes, plan B would allow students to return at reduced capacity and plan C would return students to remote learning only.

If students have to be transported in shifts or have to adhere to social distancing guidelines at all times, it immediately creates an issue.

Associate Superintendent of Operations Anthony Vann said it would be impossible to perfectly adhere to social distancing when students get on the bus because they would walk past the driver, instantly violating the six-feet rule. Social distancing would massively reduce the number of students who can be transported on a bus.

A regular school bus can transport 72 elementary school kids or 48 high school students. Social distancing would reduce the number of kids who could be on a bus to 7 to 12. Vann said staff took measurements of buses to find the maximum capacity with current social distancing rules.

The reduced capacity and rules mean schools would have to run several times the normal number of routes, hire more bus drivers and even have a monitor placed on each bus. Another issue is cleaning the schools. To clean the schools to the appropriate level, the district will need more custodians, Vann said.

“It’s going to be significantly more expensive,” Vann said, adding the district does not have all the answers on procedure or funding.

The district is working on how to provide meals for students while maintaining social distances as well.

The changes would also come with logistics challenges and increased costs for fuel, vehicle maintenance and cleaning supplies. Vann said he hopes there will be more guidance from the state on procedure, funding and if districts will be able to tailor parts of their own plans.

Vann said plan B would be the most expensive option for the schools, and other administrators have commented that plan would be a challenge for families as well. Smith previously said plan B seems the least likely of the three options.

Superintendent Lynn Moody and Smith both say Cooper could move between the three plans as needed.

“This is an extremely challenging time,” Vann said, adding the unknown is worse than knowing the answers so preparations can be made.

On a positive note, Vann said students who returned to campuses for fall sports training last week are just happy to be at school.

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