Santa Clara Unified Continues To Hope Students Can Return To Campus This Year

Though the Santa Clara Unified School District Board of Trustees has agreed to wait until Orange Tier to reopen for in-person learning, new plans from the state level may offer an opportunity to open sooner.

Reopening of Schools

At the Board Meeting on Thursday, Jan. 14, District staff gave an update on reopening schools which mainly consisted of the available details of Governor Gavin Newsom’s California Safe Schools for All Plan that’s in the works. The Governor announced the plan on Dec. 30, 2020, however, it still needs to be approved.

A highlight of the Safe Schools for All Plan includes a proposed $2 billion for the reopening of schools beginning in February, with a priority for returning the youngest students (TK-2nd grade) and those who are most disproportionately impacted first, then returning to other grade levels to in-person instruction through the spring — there will always be an option for Distance Learning. These funds will provide approximately $450 per student to school districts offering in-person instruction and will be weighted for districts serving students from low-income families, English learners and foster youth.

The State says it will support frequent COVID-19 testing for all school staff, as well as students. This will be done with the state-owned Valencia Branch Lab for PCR tests at one-third the market rate. The State will distribute millions of surgical masks to schools for free. Schools will be able to leverage state-negotiated master contracts for PPE to reduce costs and streamline supply chains. Additionally, schools will continue to be on-boarded onto the School Portal for Outbreak Tracking (SPOT).

Notably, school staff will be prioritized in the distribution of vaccines through the spring of 2021. Superintendent Dr. Stella Kemp says that educators’ turn to be vaccinated should be coming soon and to check with your health provider on receiving the vaccine.

There will be a Safe Schools for All Team led by Dr. Naomi Bardach, which will help schools develop their COVID-19 Safety Plans — SCUSD already has a Safety Plan in place. This includes school visits and walk-throughs.

For transparency and accountability, a public state dashboard will show schools’ reopening status, level of available funding, and data on in-school transmissions. Additionally, a web-based “hotline” will allow school staff and parents to report concerns to the Safe Schools for All Team.

In other updates, Dr. Kemp said they will release the Family Preference Survey — where families can state their preference between Distance Learning and Hybrid Learning — until Santa Clara County is about four to six weeks away from reaching the Orange Tier. This, she said, is to ensure accurate and up-to-date responses. The survey will be open for about 10 days once released.

After the presentation, Board Members shared the sentiment that it would be best to bring the students who need to be in school back as soon as possible. In the meantime, offering the solutions until they can return.

Review Opportunity for the Advanced Refunding of General Obligation Bonds

Mark Schiel, the District’s Chief Business Official, worked with Lori Raineri and Matt Kollker with Government Financial Strategies, the District’s municipal advisor, to explore opportunities for advanced refunding of taxpayer-approved general obligation bonds that are used to fund facilities programs.

Raineri said in her presentation that, using the “Schiel Strategy,” they could delay issuing the second series of the Measure BB bonds until later in Fiscal Year 2021-22. This would maintain relatively level total projected tax levies, using additional tax revenue to pay the debt service faster; potentially shortening the term of bonds. All of this would hopefully provide the overall lowest cost to taxpayers in the long-term.

Schiel and Raineri said that this could save taxpayers $3.2 million — keeping taxes about the same but shortening the term of the bond. Raineri says market conditions are good to implement something like this now, so if the Board likes the direction of this proposal, they could bring an official plan to the Board for approval.

Board Member Andy Ratermann said he liked the direction of it but asked for more alternatives. Namely, a scenario that, instead of keeping taxes the same, would lower them temporarily to provide some short-term tax relief.

“I know our residents are struggling with the cost of housing, So I’m wondering whether there would be an alternate?” asked Ratermann.

Raineri said Government Financial Strategies would come back with some options for the Board to consider.

Other Business

The Board adopted the Benchmark Adelante for the Dual Language Immersion Program at Scott Lane Elementary School.

They also approved of the 2021-2022 SCUSD School Calendar, but they did move the April 14 meeting to April 7.

The Board meets next on Thursday, Jan. 28 at 6:30 p.m.

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