USD 457 could expand virtual school

Meghan Flynn
Garden City Telegram
USD 457's Board of Education is discussing expanding the virtual school program.

Virtual school in Garden City could be offered to more grades for the 2021-22 school year.

The USD 457 Board of Education discussed the possibility of expanding virtual school at the Board's March 25 meeting.

No action was taken at the meeting, but the topic will be on the next Board meeting agenda.

Virtual school is currently available to students in grades ninth through 12th.

Glenda LaBarbera, USD 457 assistant superintendent, said in preparation for the coming school year a parent survey was sent out across the district to gauge the interest of parents in virtual school for their children, 1,806 parents responded, with 797 interested in virtual school.

Two options were looked at for expanding virtual school, adding grades K-6 or adding grades seventh and eighth to the existing grades 9-12.

KJ Knoll, USD 457 financial officer, said 382 students said they had an interest in K-6 level virtual school, but they anticipate about 50 percent would decide to participate, about 191 students.

It would cost an estimated $922,500 to teach those students due to staffing and supply costs, Knoll said. The district receives $5,000 per student that is enrolled in virtual school, so the district would received $955,000 in funding.

While technically the district would have the funds to implement the program at a K-6 level, the district as a whole would lose money, about $1.6 million, because on average each students enrolled in on-site learning brings in $12,000 in funding, Knoll said.

"I still have the same number of teachers, the same number of staff, the same number expenses, but I'm now short $1.6 million to pay for the things that want to do with the general fund," she said. "Even though it looked like it paid for itself, by doing this option we would have to come up with $1.6 million over here to keep everything operating in this bucket for maybe 200 students. That's a lot of money."

About 97 students in grades 7-8 were interested in virtual school, Knoll said, she anticipates that about 80 percent will participate, for a total of 78 students.

It would cost an estimated $390,000 to fund virtual school for students in grades 7-8, Knoll said, and the estimated funding for the program is $390,000. Approximately $660,722 would be lost in revenue generate from students moving from on-site to virtual, leaving an estimated loss of $411,222 after program costs.

Knoll said the costs are not as drastic with the second option as there are fewer teachers and people involved.

$400,000 in ESSER funds could be used to supplement a grades 7-12 virtual program, Knoll said.

Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief program, or ESSER, comes from CARES Act funding and is designed to help students academically, to get them at grade level or above grade level in response to any gaps caused by schooling interruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Board member Lara Bors, said from a financial perspective now might be a good time implement a grade 7-12 program due to the ESSER funding.

"When else are we going to have an opportunity where we have a bucket of dollars that we can, if we choose to, invest in this option and see if it works," she said. "It's not a guarantee we would do it every year, we would look at it at the end of the year and see 'was that a good investment for our dollars?'"

Boars said the funding gives them the opportunity to try out expanding the program.

"If we find out that it wasn't, well then at least we didn't find cost-cutting measures somewhere to try it, we were able to utilize dollars that were for that purpose,'" she said. If we find it works great, then three years from now we'll have to figure out how to fund it."