Operating schools in 2020 and beyond

Many school districts across the country will face budget reductions and reduced state education funding due to COVID-19. Compensating for this is a multi-faceted challenge.

By Tom Barentson July 15, 2020

Amid the COVID-19 crisis, there are rising challenges for education and within the school learning environments that will change Pre-K–12 education significantly. Many school districts across the country will face budget reductions and reduced state education funding. However, as school districts begin to reconfigure reduced budgets, it isn’t just a simple math problem that needs to be solved to address how to provide education with less money. Rather, it’s a combination of a health crisis response, required education delivery changes, management of reduced resources in a difficult economy, and the response of our society to a permanently new school learning model.

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, school districts and other public agencies were already challenged with the prospects of continued power outages and other natural disasters. To accommodate for the loss of learning time, some districts tried to build additional days into the schedule. Additionally, school districts were faced with escalating energy costs due to rising utility rates and inefficient systems. These rate increases are not going away and neither is the threat of power outages and natural disasters.

So how can schools respond to the existing and the new challenges from COVID-19? School districts must modernize their outdated systems and create the energy efficiencies that will reduce their budgets and maintain a safe environment.

The Centers for Disease Control and Preventions’ recommendations for virus prevention are not budget neutral for schools, but rather raise expenses and increase needed manpower. Per the CDC guidelines, school district business officials are trying to create and maintain bubbles of space around every student which represents approximately 39 square feet per student in classrooms. For example, with a classroom of 950 square feet and 222 feet of that space utilized for teachers, desks, files, bookcases, etc., means, at best, 18 student desks would be the maximum number of desks for a normal classroom (pre-COVID was 35 desks). Plus, students must be able to pass inside the classroom with a 6-foot cushion between a student and another person, which would reduce the maximum number of students per classroom to less than 15.

The questions that many school districts are trying to answer while facing budget cuts and responding to COVID-19 are:

  • Where can the additional students be housed?
  • How many more teachers, staffing, and equipment will be needed?
  • Will we need to move to split school days/shifts of students?
  • Will more than one entry to each classroom be needed to prevent crowding?
  • Will the ventilation systems of each school and classroom adequately move enough clean/fresh air to comply with health standards?

School district experts, while understanding the current budget reductions and reality, are recommending additional spending to make schools and classrooms safe just to keep schools open and students learning. As a possible solution, school district facility planners are suggesting that our learning facilities need to be renovated to “smart” schools where touchless and body motion sensors, including automatic doors and automatic flush valves in restrooms are installed to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 or any virus in buildings.

To face these unprecedented configuration challenges in schools, school districts can plan to make modifications that make their schools safer while reducing costs through facility management and energy solutions.

This article originally appeared on Southland’s blog, In the Big RoomSouthland is a CFE Media content partner. 

Author Bio: Tom Barentson has served the education community for over 40 years as a teacher, chief business official, and sales leader for companies providing facility planning, employee benefits, and distance learning.