With most families planning to have their students return to five-day-per-week, in-person instruction this fall, the Sun Prairie Area School District is still planning to offer a virtual instruction option for the 7% of students whose parents wish to keep them home or were unsure in responding to a recent survey.

That information was shared with the Sun Prairie School Board during its Monday, May 24 board meeting. According to SPASD Director of Instructional Technology Curt Mould, results of an April 16 survey indicated 77% of 2,200 respondents — or about 93% of students in the district — plan to return to school in-person this fall, when classes are scheduled to meet five days per week.

Mould said during his presentation the number was significant enough to plan for full-time virtual learning, especially at the elementary and high school levels.

Because of that, there is a need to offer full-time virtual learning for the 2021-22 school year, especially in light of Wisconsin Act 18 which allows a student to attend a fully virtual school option in the 2021-22 school year, if the school board offers the fully virtual option in the school district governed by that board or a charter school offers the fully virtual option in the school district it is located in.

A PowerPoint “Fall Reopening Together” update shared with the public and the board indicates the district will continue to offer virtual options into the 2021-22 school year. In some instances, content for students may be provided by an SPASD teacher, and in other instances like those with specialized course content, an external provider within the Wisconsin eSchool Network or JEDI virtual charter school may be used to supply curriculum and/or licensed teachers.

Caregivers who choose to enroll their student in virtual learning options commit for the 2021-22 school year by Friday, May 28. There will be an option to return to in-person learning at the end of the first semester (January 2022). The presentation indicates that having families choose virtual will allow the district to plan for scheduling, staffing, special education, transportation, etc. because so many processes need to align to this caregiver/student selection.

A process will be developed to identify staff to teach in the virtual learning option, but during the 2021-22 school year, concurrent teaching will likely be limited to short-term, district-initiated circumstances (e.g. individual or class quarantine, other district-initiated short-term situations), according to the presentation (see the presentation with the online version of this story at sunprairiestar.com).

The SPASD plans to verify parent selection of 2021-22 instructional options by June 4, determine the number of sections needed and the locations of virtual school(s). On June 15, a staffing model will be determined, according to the presentation.

Board members had questions. School Board Deputy Clerk and Governance Officer Tom Weber asked what would happen if parents selected the virtual option for their children instead of the roughly 50 expected to take it next school year, or if it drops to no students taking online instruction.

“I’m just wondering if we think we’re going to have a lot of people who are going to change their mind over the summer,” Weber said.

“The answer to that is we’ll work with families on their particular individual situation, however, we are asking families to commit to a minimum of a semester at a time,” Mould said. After that, the district will need exceptions to grant virtual instruction. In order to build staffing models and seat classrooms traditionally, Mould said, the SPASD needs that semester minimum commitment.

Newly elected board member Alwyn Foster wondered —considering some of the instruction is virtual and not all by SPASD teachers — what’s going to happen to those teachers? Will they be moved to part-time? Would their employment be terminated?

Mould replied that right now, the SPASD does not anticipate having enough of an enrollment loss at any school to cut any sections or any full time equivalent (FTE) positions.

Budget coming June 21

A preliminary Sun Prairie Area School District budget will be presented to the Sun Prairie School Board on June 21, according to Phil Frei, SPASD Director of Business and Finance.

In a report to the board, Frei wrote that major budget inputs are based on past history and/or current state and federal developments.

“The inputs will be updated as actual numbers are known,” Frei added. “This report focuses on ‘fixed’ budget inputs. Fixed inputs are those major budget factors that are, for the most part, outside the local control of the school board and district. Some are controlled by the State and some are controlled by community growth.”

Frei said examples of major budget inputs of a fixed nature include:

Enrollment – The preliminary budget is based on enrollment growth of 50 students. Administration feels this is a conservative number and as always, enrollment will be monitored during the summer months. For reference, the UW-APL Report is projecting a PK-12 growth of 233 students.

“Given our last two years of declining enrollment,” Frei wrote, “a more conservative estimate is more reasonable.”

Debt Levy – $21.6 million based on the current debt structure.

Equalized Aid Estimate – The current budget uses the estimates given by Forecast 5 and R.W. Baird forecast models of $53,116,720, which is a 4.6% increase from this year.

“This amount will be adjusted when the district receives the July 1, 2021 DPI equalized aid estimate,” Frei wrote.

Open Enrollment – The current 2021-22 budget is based on past trends for open enrollment. The open enrollment budget will be adjusted in the summer when a better estimate is available.

Property Value – A 3% increase in property value was budgeted for a total of $5.8 billion.

“This is also a conservative number and will be adjusted in the future,” Frei wrote.

Revenue Cap Increase – The current budget uses a $75 increase in the revenue cap which equates to $820,000.

“The state bi-annual budget has not been finalized, therefore, the district will need to closely monitor state budget developments,” Frei advised.

Board member Caren Diedrich asked about the projection of a loss of 50 students would be easier to plan for than a net increase of 233 students

Frei replied that it is easier to deal with more students than fewer. “Adding staff or adding money to the budget is a lot easier to do than finding $300,000-400,000 because you don’t have that enrollment,” Frei replied.

Board Treasurer Dave Hoekstra agreed that a projected increase of 3% was conservative given last year’s 6% increase. Hoekstra wondered about any political discussion about a per-pupil increase in aid.

Frei replied that he believed the Joint Finance Committee would provide a better picture about per-pupil increases in state aid for education later this week, but also doubted it would be anywhere near the $200 increase proposed by Gov. Tony Evers.

And Frei agreed that 3% was conservative, but noted all of the greater-than-normal activity surrounding home sales would be reflected in 2022. He said RW Baird will provide a more accurate property value projection to the SPASD in mid-August.

Frei said he hoped to know more about the district’s fixed budget inputs before June 21.

It is possible, Frei added, the district will convene its annual meeting later this year without knowing a final budget disposition from the state.

Back to back meetings in June

The board will hold its two June board meetings on back-to-back Mondays, June 14 and 21, a 6 p.m. to avoid any potential vacation conflicts surrounding the July 4 holiday.

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