November 26, 2020

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Coventry school officials voice concerns about COVID costs | Coventry

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COVENTRY — Board of Education Chairwoman Jennifer Beausoleil said Monday that she is concerned about...

COVENTRY — Board of Education Chairwoman Jennifer Beausoleil said Monday that she is concerned about rising costs due to COVID-19 potentially causing the school board to have to make modifications to its programs and services mid-year.

“We are currently projecting a $289,006 shortfall,” Beausoleil said, referring to costs accumulated to address COVID-19-related labor costs, equipment, contracted services, and supplies.

While the school board has received $117,000 from an Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund grant, Beausoleil said there are not many state grant funding opportunities left. She said the school board could receive funding from FEMA but that would not be enough to make up for the $289,006 shortfall.

Superintendent of Schools David Petrone shares those same concerns.

“Due to the many unknowns associated with the pandemic, as a district, we are greatly concerned about what future expenses we could incur,” Petrone said. “In the past, the Town Council has expressed they understand what challenges we are up against and will support us to the best of their ability.”

The Board of Education unanimously passed a $27.8 million budget in May, which the council subsequently adopted as part of the overall town budget. The education budget is up almost $340,000, or 1.23 percent, from authorized spending in the 2019-2020 school year.

At the same time, the school board unanimously voted to support the council’s effort to adopt a budget with no tax increase by giving almost $325,000 in COVID-19-related savings back to the town.

The council voted unanimously June 15 to create a COVID Educational Expense Fund of $99,999 during the current fiscal year. It would provide funding to the school board to “meet extraordinary and unbudgeted expenses, incurred during the 2020/2021 school year” due to COVID-19 “that cannot be met by the funding in the board’s approved budget or with grant awards or savings.”

Beausoleil said she’s still waiting on details on how to access the funds.

Council Vice Chairman Matthew O’Brien Sr. said he wants to explore all options for state and federal funding before accessing the COVID Educational Expense Fund.

“We plan and want to work with the board to make sure they are not damaged because of COVID-related expenses,” he said.

School board Vice Chairman William Oros also had concerns about maintaining programs with the shortfall.

“Our town council has left the school board in the lurch,” Oros said. “They were warned more than once that these extra costs are going to be added.”

Oros questioned where the shortfall would be met.

“We are going to have to look at various pieces of our operating budget and where we can find money to pay for this stuff,” he said, asking if that could potentially mean cutting sports programs.

“In the spring, maybe we do not have field trips,” he said. “It is a matter of where we can find the extra funding.”

Oros said if the council in May had put $365,000 in the Education Reserve Fund, that could have helped offset the costs.

But O’Brien Sr. said if those costs were not applied to the town’s budget, there would have been a tax increase.

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