AMSTERDAM — The Greater Amsterdam School District delayed the start of in-person instruction during an hours-long board meeting Wednesday night, where the board grappled with devastating worst-case scenarios.
Board members weighed a litany of factors as they pushed administrators to open schools as soon as possible while also managing an uncertain fiscal landscape that could force major budget cuts in the coming months.
While state budget officials on Wednesday indicated districts could expect full aid payments due later this months, Amsterdam leaders fear if 20-percent state aid reductions continued, the district may ultimately have to shift all students to remote learning. The district is not there, yet.
“We have been put in a very difficult position,” Ruberti said at the meeting. “This is not where any of us want to be.”
Ultimately, the board landed on a new back-to-school scheduled for the less than half of students who opted for a mix of in-person and remote instruction: Elementary and high school students are now scheduled to start in person Sept. 28, while middle school students will have to wait until Oct. 13 due to delays caused by capital work being completed at Lynch Literacy Academy. More than half of the students in the district have opted for all-virtual learning, and all students will learn virtually until the new start dates.
The one-week delay for elementary and high school students gives the district more time to receive supplies like back-ordered Chromebooks and air filters as well as continue outreach to parents and further trim the budget to brace for continued funding reductions.
Meanwhile, the middle school students have to wait longer as the district’s contractors complete renovation work at Lynch middle school. The district’s kindergarten program is scheduled to start Oct. 5, and the pre-kindergarten program is delayed through at least Nov. 30, depending on financial factors.
District officials faced numerous challenges in sticking to the Sept. 21 reopening plan, which was delayed from earlier plans, and are also starting to weigh more draconian budget cuts that could be necessary if state funding reductions continue.
“The delay will give the district more time,” according to a message posted to the district website detailing the changes.
But the board also heard from numerous students and parents at the start of the meeting, who expressed deep concerns after hearing the board may have to consider a shift to all-virtual learning for nearly all of the students. They implored the board to not allow students to lose out on a year of in-person school.
“The news of a fully remote option was extremely upsetting,” said a student writing into the board.
Parents noted the difficulty of making plans for childcare and work when the district’s plans continue to change.
“You have hard decisions but you are making it very difficult on parents right now,” the parent wrote. “I plead with the board do not have the children go fully remote.”
The board’s extended conversation also delved into possible budget cuts if a projected 20-percent aid reduction came to fruition.
Ruberti said if the district saw no additional stimulus funding and 20-percent reductions continued, it may have to move all students to remote learning, closing the massive budget shortfall by cutting costs from transportation, utilities, operational staff, classroom aides, assistant principals and eliminating non-mandated courses.
“If we get to a point where we don’t get any stimulus money, and we are spending all of this, we might be forced into this,” he said. “If we don’t get the aid we are hoping for this would be our worst-case scenario.”
But some board members also expressed a desire to not overreact to the potential of cuts and to preserve as much in-person instruction as possible.
“I can fully appreciate … the financial stresses that may happen,” board member Kent McHeard said during the meeting. “We do not know if we will receive the state aid or not, and when that time comes drastic measures, but I’m still hearing the voices of the students that wrote us, the students that spoke to us and said being physically in school is different than being in front of the computer.”