SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — School leaders are preparing school budgets for the unknown road ahead.
They don't know if students will be allowed to return to class in the fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but they need to finalize their budgets now, and they say the pandemic is posing many challenges.
"That's our new reality."
Regan Nickels will take over as superintendent of RSU 22 in July when Richard Lyons retires. The school district includes towns like Hampden, Frankfort, and Winterport.
"If there's one way to learn a lot about community needs and communication priorities, it's to come in at a time like this," she said.
RSU 22's school board will meet Wednesday night to discuss the school budget.
The budget is something schools statewide are focused on right now before proposals go before voters to finalize in July.
"We really had to revise our budget fairly dramatically," said Ken Kunin, superintendent of South Portland Schools.
Kunin said they presented a budget back in March. Just days later, everything changed as reported cases of COVID-19 emerged in Maine and remote learning took over.
“If we’re trying to bring 3,000 students back to 8 schools in the midst of this, it will just be quite a challenge.”
He doesn't know what next year will look like.
"If we're trying to bring 3,000 students back to 8 schools in the midst of this, it will just be quite a challenge."
What he does know is that they'll need to beef up the technology students and teachers depend on.
Something other school districts are considering, too.
"We'll need to really make sure the internet is solid in every home," said Jeremy Ray, the superintendent of Biddeford Schools.
Ray said they did receive 775 tablets from the Maine Department of Education to help mostly elementary school students. Still, he says students in hundreds of local homes face challenges accessing the internet.
"I suspect that the lines that we put money in this year may not be spent the same way as they are in the future so we're going to have to look to adjust throughout the year," he said.
"This has been a tremendous amount of work," said Xavier Botana, superintendent of Portland Public Schools about putting together the school district's budget this year.
Portland's school board voted Tuesday night to approve a $119.9 million budget, but they don't have a clear plan on where to make cuts to avoid a tax increase.
Other concerns school leaders share right now: decreases in state subsidies and their students' well-being.
"We have 40% of students qualified for free or reduced lunch at the start of the pandemic. We anticipate that that is well over 50% now and that we're a lifeline for them to be able to resume their lives," said Ken Kunin.
Kunin and Nickels are also talking about adding to their districts' health services next year to include social and emotional support for students and staff as we navigate this unprecedented time.
At NEWS CENTER Maine, we're focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus
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