More than two years after the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 shut down schools and ushered in remote learning and complex reopening plans, the Shoreham-Wading River School District plans to eliminate many of the remaining measures that were implemented due to the pandemic as part of its proposed 2022-23 budget.
Shoreham-Wading River superintendent Gerard Poole said at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting that the upcoming reopening plan had been trimmed down to one page, compared to nearly 80 pages when the school first reopened at the start of the 2020-21 school year.
The district outlined the first details Tuesday of the proposed $83.07 million budget, which is a 2.95% increase from the current year. The budget stays under the tax cap, which with exclusions comes to about 1.59% for SWR. The district will increase the tax levy — which is the amount of money raised through taxes — by the maximum allowed.
As part of the post-pandemic changes, students will return to regular cafeteria space for lunch. The district had been using auxiliary gyms at the middle school and high school for added cafeteria space to allow for distancing. Seven part-time aides hired to assist with the additional space will not be included in the upcoming budget.
Band and chorus classes can return to their regular rooms across the district, Mr. Poole said. The district will no longer be doing contact tracing if a student tests positive for COVID-19, which is no longer required. Mr. Poole said parents and staff will still be notified when there’s a positive case.
A few requirements will still remain in place. Mr. Poole said masks will be required for someone who returns to the building on days 6-10 after testing positive for COVID-19. The district must also continue to report positive cases to the New York State Department of Health and testing for unvaccinated staff members will continue through at least May and as long as the state requires. Nightly disinfecting will continue for instructional spaces.
Glen Arcuri, the assistant superintendent for finance and operations, said the district will eliminate four health aide positions that were added due the pandemic. Instead, the district will add three nurse positions. He said prior to the pandemic, the district had five nurses — one for each building and a “floating” nurse who could fill in where needed. Now, each building would have two nurses, he said.
Mr. Arcuri said the district will further decrease the number of custodial aides that were added following the pandemic.
“They’ve been essential throughout the process, however as we’re morphing back to a pre-COVID model, which is what I call it, or our traditional instructional setting, that position or type of service is not — based on the science, based on the high-touch surfaces, based on all the information — it’s not as essential as it once was.” he said.
The budget will also eliminate extra staff to support six-foot distancing at the elementary level.
“We’re going back to traditional settings, which does not need six-foot spacing,” Mr. Arcuri said.
The proposed budget includes funding for a shared elementary librarian that will replace an instructional materials assistant position following a retirement. Mr. Poole said the district has not had an elementary librarian for as long as he’s been working in the district.
He said the librarian will provide an emphasis on “research skills, assessing information for validity, working with teachers … and helping sort of guide the elementary libraries into the future.”
Mr. Poole discussed some new course offerings at the high school level, such as ceramics, digital photography and mythology. The middle school will also restructure to a nine-period day next year, a change that allows additional opportunities for special education students and other students who may need additional help.
Mr. Arcuri, who discussed the specific figures of the budget, noted that the budget accounts for a potential 14% increase in health plan premiums. Last year, the district budgeted for a 10% increase and it came in around 12%. He said the figure had always come in below the estimate.
Board member Michael Lewis asked what’s driving the increase and Mr. Arcuri said it appears to be related to salary costs for staff and that the cost for workers compensation has gone up 20-30%.
“Providers that are charging for services are charging a higher fee, which in turn is getting passed onto the insurance company that has to pay that higher fee inside the negotiated prices, which in turn gets passed onto us in premiums,” Mr. Arcuri said.
The district will also present a capital projects proposition to voters that will not exceed $2.89 million. The project, which will be funded through a reserve and will not add additional cost to taxpayers, will be to renovate the high school auxiliary gym into a physical health and wellness center. The gym had previously been used as a wrestling room until a new facility for the wrestling team was completed in 2021. The new health and wellness center will provide opportunities for pilates, yoga, weight training and cardio exercises and will benefit both physical education classes and athletics, Mr. Arcuri said.
The proposition will also fund renovations to two high school art classrooms. Mr. Arcuri said the classrooms are original to when the building was first constructed and are in need of upgrades.
The district will provide additional details on the budget at meetings March 15 and March 22. The budget vote is May 17.