TH officials worry about budget shortfall

File photoMary Miller from the New York News Publishers Association, presents a program on media literacy at the Taconic Hills Central School District in September. Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday ordered schools across the state to be closed until April 15 to help stop the advance of the coronavirus.

NEW YORK — Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday that schools will remain closed statewide for an additional two weeks, until April 15, due to the COVID-19 health crisis.

“I believe the schools should remain closed,” Cuomo said at his daily briefing Friday. “I don’t do this joyfully, but I think when you look at where we are, and you look at the number of cases still increasing, it only makes sense to keep the schools closed.”

The initial closure began March 18 and was set to expire April 1. At that time, Cuomo waived the state’s requirement that schools hold at least 180 days of instruction. That waiver will continue. After April 15, the situation will be reassessed again.

“I decided to close the public schools because I believe it was safest to close the schools and reduce the spread,” Cuomo said.

Local schools have been developing plans for alternative instruction options, including distance learning techniques. Those plans must be submitted to the State Education Department, who can amend or modify those plans in consultation with the state Department of Health and the Office of Children and Family Services at any time.

“They have to continue the programs they’re doing,” Cuomo said. “They have to continue the child care, continue the meals, continue the distance learing programs.”

Taconic Hills Central School District’s Board of Education met via Zoom, a video conferencing app, Thursday night, during which Superintendent of Schools Neil Howard said he anticipated the class cancellations would be extended.

District Business Manager Cybil Howard expressed her concerns about the 2020-21 school budget.

“What I’m concerned about right now is the information that’s coming from the state this afternoon,” the business manager said. “I think we’ll be fine for this year. All of the current year aid payments are already in progress, so I think we’ll be OK.”

The business manager said school closures will most likely not save school districts money in the long-term because where buildings could save on energy and operation, other costs will be incurred elsewhere.

“Essentially what the governor has said to school districts is, ‘If I promised you $12 million in the 2021 budget cycle, I will give you $12 million — if I have $12 million to give you next year,’” Cybil Howard said.

The business manager said revenues are going to be reviewed, at most on a quarterly basis, and districts could be subject to reduced state aid next year. For now, the business manager said she is trying to determine whether the district should cut down what it is expecting to get for aid amounts, and how it will affect tax levies.

“We get transportation aid on the mileage that we drive and on the salaries that we pay, but because, to a large extent, those miles and salaries are not currently going to transporting students to and from our building every day, transportation aid could just plummet next year,” Cybil Howard said.

While classes are being taught on platforms such as Zoom and Google Classroom, social studies teacher Nancy Byrne is looking forward to a monumental in-person event early next year.

Byrne presented a January 2021 trip to Washington, D.C., for eighth and ninth grade students to attend Inauguration Day, asking for the board’s approval for educationally excused absences.

“We’ll hit all the highlights of D.C.,” Byrne said. “But we’re really going for the event. This is an opportunity to witness history.”

The trip will cost around $1,000 per student, and 50 interested students have already put down a deposit, despite the uncertainty surrounding the duration of COVID-19.

“I believe that travel is the greatest educator in the world,” Byrne said.

School districts throughout New York will be updating their websites and sending information out about the extended closures in coming days.

Abby Hoover is a reporter for Columbia-Greene Media. Contact her at ahoover@registerstar.com.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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