I. Our Schools
COVID-19 in Our Schools
On October 28, we were informed that a Cooke Elementary School staff member had tested positive for COVID-19. The staff member had become symptomatic on Saturday, October 24, and was last in school on October 23.
The school’s contact tracing identified four other staff members and nine students as potential contacts. Our administration immediately informed Sullivan County Public Health Services (PHS), and called the identified staff and students’ parents with this information, advising them to stay home until they get further directions from PHS. Per New York State Department of Health (DOH) guidance, these contacts will most likely be quarantined by the DOH, and not permitted to return to school until released by them.
The school and work areas of these staff members have been disinfected, repeatedly, since October 23, based on our cleaning protocols. Based on this and the limited exposures to the COVID-19 positive individual, and after consultation with PHS, Cooke ES will remain open. We will continue to monitor the quarantined individuals, and take additional steps should any of them become sick, and we hope the COVID-19 positive staff member gets well, soon.
New State Guidance on school closures due to COVID-19
The New York State Department of Health (DOH) issued updated guidance on its “Micro-Cluster Strategy” to closing schools, businesses, and organizations. As it has demonstrated in Brooklyn, Broome County, and Orange County, the DOH will identify “clusters” of high infection rates, and close areas accordingly.
To be identified as a “yellow” zone—the initial identification status—a geographic area in Sullivan County would need to have a 7-day rolling average positive infection rate of 3.5% or greater for a 10-day period. In order for schools to remain open in a “yellow” zone, they need to test 20% of all students and staff, weekly, for COVID-19. In Monticello CSD, this would be approximately 700 students per week.
According to the NYS DOH of October 29, 2020, Sullivan County had five consecutive days of a 7-day rolling average positivity rate of higher than 3.5%, with October 25 being the first day above 3.5%. This publicly-available data, however, is not necessarily the same as those that would be used in the DOH’s determinations on potential clusters.
At this time PHS, local health agencies, and MCSD do not have the capacity to test 20% of our students and staff weekly for COVID-19. If we were put in a “yellow” zone, we would most likely be closed for remote instruction, only, for at least 10 days.
The DOH guidance on its “Micro-Cluster Strategy” can be downloaded by clicking here.
Monticello CSD is—at this time—keeping its eight (8) snow days for 2020–21.
This means that if we close or delay for inclement weather, all in-person and remote instruction will also be cancelled or delayed. Please check our website—www.monticelloschools.net— or our media partners, listed on the closings and delays page, for these announcements.
II. Capital Improvements
Monticello High School and Transportation Center
Work continues as planned in our capital improvements in Monticello High School and new transportation center.
Most of the underground utilities work has been completed at the site of the new transportation center, and we anticipate that the foundation will be laid in the next few weeks. Once done, construction will begin on the new structure to house our buses and transportation department.
At the high school, installation of new window and door frames has begun. Contractors continue to install new electrical and plumbing systems. In most cases, these are according to the original plans, however the district has made change orders regarding an old water main, and anticipates making another on a glass piping disposal system. This system was part of the original structure, and installed for acid and other chemical disposal in the “old” science labs. Our architects and district staff were unaware of this system until it was excavated in mid-summer.
III. Our Financials
We continue to receive ominous reports regarding significant budget deficits in New York State for this year, and the years to come:
- Statewide sales tax receipts are down 15% ($13.3 billion) for this budget year, to date.
- The state is expecting an $8.3 billion structural budget deficit in 2021–22. This is a similar deficit—i.e., 8% of overall budget—to what the state had in 2011, and in addition to the current budget shortfalls this year.
- If New York State cuts school aid by 20%, it will be the lowest state contribution—in terms of overall budget—to public education since 1941.
Empire State After-School (ESAS) Grant Funding
We recently received notice from the Office of Children and Family Services that “how and what [we] get paid is uncertain.” This leads us to wonder whether the district will receive any ESAS monies this year, and we have subsequently suspended any plans for after-school programs funded through this grant. We had anticipated receiving these grant monies when planning our 2020–21 budget, and if we do not have some assurance about this grant we cannot move forward with these programs
While any additional “cuts,” to state aid have been put on hold, various state departments—State Education Department and Office of Children and Family Services—are withholding disbursements. As noted above, OCFS is currently withholding ESAS funding.
We have also been informed that the New York State Education Department will be withholding any transportation aid generated during the COVID-19 closure of March–June 2020. Even though Monticello CSD buses delivered food to families during this time, NYSED will not reimburse aid to school districts for this time.
So many of you have been patient and resilient while we try to provide the best education possible given these crises conditions. And we all want what is best for our students. Our staff continues to overcome the challenges presented, and “reopen” opportunities in as safe a manner possible.
As we enter the holiday season, we ask for your continued cooperation in keeping healthy through face coverings, social distancing, hand hygiene, and medical treatment if you or your child is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
Although much has changed about this school year, one thing that has remained the same is the support of our community. Each year, community organizations, agencies and individuals step up to the plate to provide our students with experiences that enrich their education and traditions that lead to fun memories. This year has been no exception. Whether it’s adapting an event or program to be socially distant/virtual, or tangibly supporting our students with donations of time or other needed items, we’re grateful for our community members who have been a light during these difficult months.