DALLAS — In Dallas School District, the opening of school with distance learning had just a few hiccups, but nothing that school officials weren’t expecting.
“The start up of the school year has gone as well as possible,” said Dallas Superintendent Andy Bellando. “We had some early log-in challenges and we addressed those quickly. All students needing devices have received one.”
The district received 135 mobile hot spots to help families without internet access.
“Priority has been those students without any connectivity,” Bellando said. “All students have access to the internet in the parking lots of Dallas High School, LaCreole Middle School and Oakdale Heights Elementary School. Additionally, we are providing limited in-person access to the internet (in buildings) for students without connectivity and who have not been engaged at this point.”
Bellando send a letter to parents at the conclusion of the first week of school, which began on Sept. 28. He said he is proud of the effort put in by teachers, staff, parents and students at the start of the school year.
“With the first week of distance learning behind us, I can confidently share that our preparation made a difference,” Bellando wrote. “Nearly all enrolled students logged in and experience engagement in this new way of being for Dallas School District. This week demonstrated to me that we were able to accomplish something that seemed nearly impossible just a few months ago.”
Enrollment is down 189 students, about 6.4 percent, Bellando said. About 50 of those are kindergarteners.
“The remaining are the result of an increase in home school and virtual online charter school students,” he said. “In speaking with other superintendents, the drop in enrollment is similar to what other districts are experiencing.”
Bellando said this year, enrollment may still fluctuate.
“I guess I would be really curious to see how our numbers are leveling out or whether they have more stability one, two, three, four weeks from now. We will see how it goes,” he said Monday at the Dallas School Board meeting.
If the loss of students holds, that will be a $1.6 million hit to the budget, if the state doesn’t provide more help.
“That’s a lot of money. That’s a lot of people because 85 percent of our budget goes toward people,” Bellando said. “As (Director of Fiscal Services) Debbie (MacLean) shared earlier, the state has assured us, or given us pretty strong assurance that the funding for 2020-21 is stable enough that we will be able to maintain throughout the school year, but as we begin to develop the budget for next year, which will be at the same time as the state will be developing the next biennial budget, and the number of decisions related to the 2021-23 biennium, I think it’s fair to say there’s lots of uncertainty about what it really means.”
He said questions remain as to whether the Oregon State Legislature will continue to support districts at the current level even with the loss of students and if the state will have resources to provide that funding.
“I don’t anticipate any reductions at this time in Dallas School District, but I think there’s a real question mark about what it looks like next year depending on what the state legislature does in support of schools,” Bellando said.