Buses wait outside King Middle School at the end of the first day of the school Monday. A pool of coronavirus relief funds helped Portland Public Schools ensure schools had adequate staffing, technology and facility improvements to reopen to students. That funding, however, is not available for 2021. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — The school year began Monday, but officials are already looking ahead to the end of the calendar year, when the district could be short $2.8 million needed to maintain coronavirus precautions in its schools.

Portland Schools has received $6.2 million in federal coronavirus relief funds, which it has used to recoup some of the costs associated with COVID-19, but that funding ends this calendar year. The district used the money to increase technology capabilities for remote instruction, boost staffing levels, food service and supplies, and to make facility and health improvements to safely reopen schools under the hybrid model.

“By and large the coronavirus relief fund, all told, met our most critical needs,” said Executive Director of Budget and Finance Miranda Fasulo. “The real challenge is proceeding without having the funding sources identified to keep us going (beyond Dec. 30).”

It is expected to cost $4.2 million to maintain the initiatives for the rest of the school year. Fasulo said the schools have about $1.4 million to put toward that amount, including $800,000 that comes from a $350,000 savings from retirement turnover, the $150,000 discontinuance of the school resource officer program, $300,000 in expenses shifted to grant funding and $650,000 in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding that has been set aside as contingency.

The district would be short $2.8 million if “we continue with all initiatives that we have planned for the fall and we are unable to identify other areas of savings as we proceed into the year,” Fasulo said.

Continued relief funding is not likely, at least at this point.

“To the extent we get additional relief funding, that would be amazing,” Fasulo said. “I have not heard anything about that beyond this calendar year, so obviously we will have difficult decisions to make.”

Although that $4.7 million cost is still an estimate and numbers will continue to evolve throughout the fall, Fasulo expects “discontinuation of some investments, cuts elsewhere, or consideration of some potential use of certain reserves to be part of the ongoing discussion on how to manage the rest of the year.”

There is $2.5 million in the district’s capital reserves and $4.5 million in the “fund balance” that could be used, but not without council or voter approval. Fasulo said doing so would be a last resort. School districts are required to maintain capital reserves and a certain fund balance and state law dictates how they can be used.

“We should be very cautious going down that road because the reserves are probably going to be very necessary in the next year or two as the economy continues to suffer as a result of (the virus),” Superintendent Xavier Botana said. “I think we should be very conservative.”

 

 

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