By Nancy Richardson

The Champlain Valley School District (CVSD) School Board met on Tuesday, April 28, to chart a course forward in the midst of many uncertainties. Chief among them are the major hits to the state and local school education budgets and the uncertainty of how education will be delivered in the midst of the Covid-19 epidemic.

On May 8, Vermont Secretary of Education Dan French will provide more guidance to Vermont districts on the most reasonable course for educational programming in the fall of 2020. During the board meeting he was quoted as saying, “Don’t expect to be delivering educational programs in the same way.”

Some solutions mentioned at the meeting were staggered schedules, increased classroom spacing, and remote learning mixed with staggered attendance. What the district does not want to endure is a reaction to successive waves of increased virus by repeated shutdowns. It is expected that compensatory services for special education students will be provided this summer and that the cost will be funded by the federal CARES Act.

The board is aware of the strain on families produced by the need to be engaged in home-schooling and the anxiety produced by the fear of having children attend school in an uncertain environment. The May 8 guidance from French will also define end-of-year celebrations and graduation. The last day of school will be June 12, with 3 additional days of teacher professional development.

In the area of education funding the news is dire. The FY 20 State Education Fund has a $19 million deficit. For FY 21 the deficit is expected to be $100 million, which will produce a 9 percent decrease in the FY 21 school budgets. In the case of CVSD, this amount would be $7 million, an amount that cannot be made up from the CVSD fund balance.

Because education is one of the pillars of community in Vermont, it is expected that the state will find an avenue to fulfill its commitment to local districts. The Joint Finance Committee of the Legislature is meeting to develop a remedy. There are only four avenues available: reduce spending, find a new tax base, obtain federal money, borrow. It is expected but not certain that Congress will pass a bill to provide funding to state and local governments. In any case, it is difficult to project what this combination of funding mechanisms will produce. Jeanne Jensen, CVSD director of operations, said that “the pressure on the FY 22 budget will be extreme.”

In the midst of such difficult news, members of the administration and CVSD Board Chair Lynne Jaunich saluted the work of a former principal and current members of CVSD staff. Monica Smith, former principal of Charlotte Central School, who died suddenly last week, was remembered as a person who treated all children with love and respect. Early childhood staff members Victoria Francis and Shelley Henson were lauded for their work in curriculum development for 400 preschool students in private settings across the district with a deadline of two days. Mark McDermott, director of human resources, thanked his staff for coming to the office and ensuring that CVSD staff are paid and medical and other benefits are delivered.

Finally, the board discussed a series of three retreats from the end of May through the summer that will enable members to be fully informed of transpiring events. At the same time, the regular work of the board will continue in the area of defining academic indicators, ensuring equity, strengthening the committee process, and planning for special education.