Piqua BOE hears COVID update

PIQUA — The Piqua City Schools Board of Education heard a COVID-19 update from administrators during its regular session on Thursday.

Both Superintendent Dwayne Thompson and Assistant Superintendent Tony Lyons expressed the district is handling the pandemic well and both are optimistic about the future.

“One of the biggest questions I get every day is, ‘Are you guys closing schools?’ and it is our absolute intent not to do that,” Thompson said. “We are not planning on closing … because we know that’s best for our kids.”

Lyons said under 1 percent of students and under 3 percent of staff have reported testing positive for the virus since the beginning of the school year.

Lyons added that a large majority of these cases seem to have come from close contact with an infected source outside of the schools themselves, which he attributes to precautions put in place during the school day, including social distancing and the use of masks.

If schools were ordered to close, Thompson said the district is prepared.

“All students already have one-to-one computers and we’re ready to go remote. Students would basically log on just as they’d attend a class and teachers would be teaching from their classrooms remotely,” he said. “Hopefully that doesn’t happen, but we’re prepared and ready to go if we have to.”

Treasurer Jeremie Hittle presented the district’s five-year budget forecast Thursday. Hittle said the district’s funding and forecast have been directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, noting data suggests the economy for the fiscal years 21-25 will be recovering from the shutdown that began in March.

“Our state funding is directly affected by state revenue collections,” Hittle’s presentation states. “The effects of the shut down on the economy at the state level created a budget deficit which required the state of Ohio to make $300 million in reductions in K-12 education for the FY20 and FY21 state budget.”

Hittle said every school district in Ohio has been affected by these reductions, with PCS funding being reduced by $508,352 in both fiscal years for a total reduction of $1,016,704.

“From everything I’ve been told at this point, in FY22, we can expect our state foundation formula money to start matching where we were at in 2019,” Hittle said, noting however that in 2019, the district was at the funding “cap.”

Hittle said the district was able to reduce expenses by over $500,000 by making various internal cuts coming into this year as an attempt to counteract the state funding reduction.

Aside from COVID-19, Hittle said another issue that will affect the district’s future is the EdChoice program, which is Ohio’s private school voucher system.

The Educational Choice Scholarship Program (EdChoice) provides students from underperforming public schools the opportunity to attend participating private schools by issuing scholarships, or vouchers, to pay school tuition. A change last year in what qualifies a school as “underperforming,” based on state report card grades, has nearly doubled the number of EdChoice schools in Ohio.

While this program opens up more opportunities for students who would have otherwise been unable to attend private schools, it leaves public education lacking, according to Hittle. In Ohio, for most voucher programs, including EdChoice, the money is deducted from state aid, as well as taxpayer monies, that would have gone to a public school.

Hittle said as long as private schools get to “hand select” students and are not required to participate in the same standardized testing as public schools, EdChoice presents a problem.

“If (the Ohio Department of Education) wants equity, they’re going to have to make it where everyone is accountable for the same processes,” Thompson said. “If everybody has the same requirements, it would make a much better impact.”

Hittle said, as with any budget forecast, the information presented is subject to change and projections will be adjusted as necessary.

“We’re going to do everything we have to do to try to keep the budget balanced without having to affect the classroom,” Hittle said. “That’s been our commitment and we’re still sticking to that.”

The next board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 9, at 6 p.m., at the high school.