EASTHAM — “School’s out forever,” Alice Cooper declared. Not exactly, but the new normal for learning in Massachusetts — virtual lessons via the internet — will now continue through the end of the current school year. Gov. Charlie Baker announced Monday that schools would remain closed until then.
Nauset Regional Schools Supt. Tom Conrad saw it coming.
“We’re all thinking we will not be coming back in on May 4,” he told a virtual meeting of the regional school committee on April 9. He was speaking for his fellow Cape Cod superintendents, who were “doing some planning behind the scenes. One of the pieces is that athletics is on hold for the season. If there’s no school, there’ll be no athletics.”
Conrad said things will be different when students do come back. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we have a robust discussion about everybody’s temperature being taken when they come on campus,” he said. “The days of kids coming in and 150 or 200 sitting in the cafeteria waiting for the day to start is going to change. When you come to campus, you’ll go to your classroom.”
What happens with athletics is tied to that. “I can’t imagine sending anybody down into our locker rooms,” Conrad said of the high school’s poorly ventilated subterranean changing areas. New locker rooms and showers are part of the high school building project that’s “in a holding pattern,” as building committee chair Greg Levasseur put it.
As for upcoming college entrance examinations, the California-based EdSource Today reported that the companies providing the SAT and ACT tests have rescheduled their spring dates to the summer and are preparing to offer digital at-home testing by the fall if school shutdowns continue.
On April 15, the Mass. School Building Authority (MSBA) issued an extension to Nov. 1 of its commitment to fund up to $37 million of the $132 million Nauset Regional High School renovation project. The next step would be for the Nauset Regional School Committee to vote to bond the project over 20 or more years and also start a 60-day clock. At the end of those 60 days, the four towns in the district would have to have held town meetings and town elections on the project; if they failed to do so, the project would be approved automatically.
The regional school committee is waiting for all four towns to set town meeting and ballot dates before taking its vote, but that’s not the only unknown. In a note to the Eastham Select Board last week, Town Administrator Jacqui Beebe said she and her peers in the other three member towns would prefer to address the school project at special town meetings in October, followed by a ballot vote on Nov. 3, the day of the presidential election. (The school question would appear on a separate ballot.)
In an e-mail reply last week, Levasseur wrote, “The simple answer is that Nov. 3 is too late. The other answer is that if this is the only solution from the four towns, we would approach MSBA on guidance for how to proceed.”
Funding in general is a topic much on the minds of local government officials as they watch revenues drop during the pandemic.
“We have at this point received some communication from the town of Orleans that they are anticipating that they are going to be … as much as $500,000 short in this current fiscal year,” Conrad told the regional school committee on April 9. “They’re looking for all their departments to look at their budgets and see if they have funds that can be given back to offset [that]. We have also been discussing this with the town of Brewster. Obviously, both towns understand that budgets are pretty well spent down at this point. A high percentage of our budget is for personnel.”