Raton Board of Education meeting reflects the coming long term financial impact of COVID-19

by Todd Brogowski

RATON — During the Monday, September 21, 2020, Raton Board of Education Meeting, it seemed that all topics led to the question of how schools will be able to afford to educate their students post-pandemic. The discussion began with teacher and summer school focal Liz Wick addressing how summer school changed due to remote learning. Typically, only 20-25 students would be able to attend summer school. However, because of the use of remote learning technology, there were far more students in summer school (the exact number was unavailable), able to make up classes at times that fit in with students’ summer jobs.

Loss of students will likely reduce Raton schools’ available funding

Dr. Christopher Bonn, the Superintendant of Raton Public Schools, and the principals of Longfellow Elementary, Raton Intermediate, and Raton High Schools, addressed a significant concern: the Raton Public School system has been losing students since the start of the pandemic. Bonn reported that the current estimated loss of students was 75 students across all grades, but this was based on incomplete data. With the loss of 75 students, Raton would still have the same facilities and personnel costs but would likely receive less funding from the New Mexico Public Education Department. Bonn stated that, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, more students have been enrolling in online-only remote learning schools, contributing to this potential problem.

Bonn’s concerns reflect a new battle for schools. No longer are public schools competing with local charter schools and parochial schools, but now they compete with statewide or even national online learning programs for students. Additionally, public schools may have considered salaries and teachers’ pensions to be their largest expenditures in the past, but now are experiencing a growing need to obtain technology solutions or update out-of-date technology solutions. Compounding this problem is that schools nationwide are fighting for the same resources. Ainsworth explained that the Raton School District could not rely on Chromebooks being available for students till January 2021, hence the need for Apple iPads.

Proposed resolution: stipend for teachers as tech support

Bonn raised the second issue that reflected the technological and social changes forced upon schools by the pandemic: a request for an additional stipend for those teachers working after school to help students address technical problems. The superintendent did address this request with a proposed resolution on the agenda. However, the Board of Education unanimously voted to table the resolution because of a lack of information regarding who would receive the stipend and where they would be located to assist students in the schools.

Brian Ainsworth, a representative of the district’s remote learning contractor, Plan B, stated that Plan B had also opened a dedicated help desk for the Raton School District’s students, teachers, staff, and parents. Plan B’s help desk raises the question of whether the school district was duplicating the contractor’s services.

Tech purchases: speed competes with the need for information

A second proposed resolution for authorization to purchase tech tools using the Raton School District’s general fund was also tabled for lack of detail. Bonn designed the proposal to make purchases from the general fund and later request reimbursement via a grant application after the money becomes available on October 23, 2020.

Ainsworth explained some of the school district’s needs, stating that the school needed to purchase numerous computers for principals, faculty, student use, and staff, including multiple $6-7,000 Mac Pro computers (Apple’s top model of computers, often used for editing video and computer programming) for the principals and numerous iPads for student use. Additional purchases would relate to 1,500 licenses for the entire Adobe Creative Cloud Suite, cellular hotspots, and wireless hotspots for school district parking lots so that students without at-home wifi would be able to connect to school wifi.

Board secretary Beaver Segotta raised the concern that there was no detailed plan outlining both the school district’s needs and the proposed solutions for those needs, stating that he was concerned about a potential audit if such a plan was not provided. The board agreed unanimously to table this discussion until Ainsworth could work with the district’s principals to give a more detailed needs assessment next month.