During its Sept. 14 meeting, the Williamson County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution for $296,485 for additional technology support and also approved a transfer of $224,755 within the existing school budget to help the district fund more personnel.
“[COVID-19] is a reality, and we’re all aware of that, and we’re trying to make sure the school system’s able to take care of their [tech] coaches and support specialists this coming year,” said District 7 Commissioner Tom Tunnicliffe, who sponsored both resolutions.
The additional cost will be funded through existing fund balances and will pay for new employees and related expenses, according to county documents. Additionally, the county approved a resolution to use more than $200,000 in funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help reimburse COVID-19-related school costs.
WCS Superintendent Jason Golden said the district’s online learning program as well as quarantine requirements from the county health department have placed a strain on staffing, compounded by a statewide teacher shortage.
“The reality for us is that frankly, we’re not staffed right now to deal with those additional elements,” Golden said.
About 6,700 students are learning remotely this year; however, with the majority of students back on campus, the district is paying for its regular operations in addition to costs related to online learning, such as technology materials.
“The savings [from having some students online] is going to be pretty negligible because the vast majority of our expenditures related to serving students is actual teachers, and we still need to run the bus routes for the 83% of our total student population that is still attending on campus,” Golden said.
WCS Chief Financial Officer Leslie Holman said the district has already received some funding from grants and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, and will continue to apply for additional grants.
Additionally, Golden said the district has seen a decrease of nearly 1,300 students since last year, as many families have chosen to homeschool or enroll their students in private school this year. Golden said this is not a unique occurrence for districts across the state this year, as many counties with metropolitan areas have reported student enrollment declines this year.
Holman said while the district is not expected to lose any Basic Education Program funding—state-allocated dollars per student—due to this decrease this year, the district could lose some funding it usually receives from the state that accounts for enrollment growth. Holman said it is not yet clear how the state will allocate funding it reserves for growing counties in a year when many counties are not reporting growth.
“We’ve always been a growing county, and I’ve always estimated the amount of growth based on the prior year’s amount of growth, and I questioned the department of education about this, and [they] said a lot of the counties are not growing, and they’ve got a pot of money for growth. So at this time, based on the formula and whether they grow of not, I would say we wouldn’t get that growth money. But again, it’s money in their budget, and a lot of the counties will not be growing, and I wonder if there might be something that could be done,” Holman said during the meeting. “The only amount in question is the amount I budgeted for growth.”