SPS to plan virtual learning test day, school board president lauds administration for managing pandemic complications with limited budget

Changes to Distance Return to Learn Plan

Sapulpa Public Schools Board of Education unanimously voted at its meeting Monday night to approve changes to its “Distance Return to Learn” plan. Superintendent Rob Armstrong explained that on September 18 the State Department of Education (OSDE) adopted changes in language with their Covid color-coded system. He stated that the first change is that in the yellow zone, statewide, there is the opportunity for teachers to have the discretion to allow the removal of masks in individual classrooms that maintain proper social distancing. 

The second change has to do with Orange Level 1 and states that each school district may now consult directly with its county health department to track state and local trends in active cases of Covid-19. Armstrong said that SPS communicates with Creek County Health Department officials every day and that they are “drilling down” to see which ZIP codes have the highest prevalence of outbreaks. If SPS were to move to Orange Level 2, there is a possibility that the administration could identify certain pockets in the area with higher outbreaks, so they could close only the schools in that area, rather than the whole district. 

Lastly, in the Red Level, now only 15% of students may be in the building at once, and Special Education students must be served first. Armstrong said that SPS is already preparing for this; in fact, they have already divided students into quarters should it move to this level. 

Armstrong and Assistant Superintendent Johnny Bilby apprised the Board that the district “needs to prepare for a virtual practice day to really check the system, just in case.” Armstrong said that should the schools move to an all-virtual system, teachers will be in class while students will be at home. “We want to make sure that all our technological infrastructure works and responds correctly.” There is also the chance that SPS will use all-virtual days in case of inclement winter weather. 

The administration is tentatively planning to perform the all-virtual test day on October 21, the Wednesday SPS returns to school from Fall Break. Bilby said that it is important to implement this trial day in the middle of the week so that Thursday and Friday can be spent analyzing the outcome and results. Bilby was also careful to manage expectations of parents and students, saying, “This will not be like it was in the spring. All students are expected to attend [virtually] and to participate.” 

Details of the virtual day are expected to be released on Tuesday, October 13 on the district’s website and on Facebook. 

2020-2021 Operating Budget approved 

Business Manager Kenda Terrones presented a detailed report on the proposed operating budget for next fiscal year. She stated that the district “lost quite a bit of state aid” and that “there has been a decrease in gross production taxes.” As a whole, these funds have decreased by about $1.3 million. Our federal sources stayed fairly static and increased with CARES Act funding, but there was also a significant decrease in funding due to a grant Liberty STEM Elementary will no longer receive. In total, general fund revenues will be down about $1.7 million. 

Terrones explained that the district maintained a healthy carryover last fiscal year, in part because of the shutdown due to the pandemic. Money was saved on utilities and diesel, among other items. Ultimately, she anticipates ending the year with a projected fund balance increase of approximately 8.49%.

Superintendent addresses Epic Charter Schools issue

When asked about Epic Charter Schools and its recent tribulations with the State Auditor & Inspector and the OSDE, Armstrong said his hope is that “all due diligence is completed [in their investigations] and that all entities are subject to the same rules and procedures the OSDE expects from [SPS].” 

Regardless, said Armstrong, “We are still doing more with less.” Each day brings new challenges with COVID, all-virtual learning plans, distance learning options, parent choices, and managing new technology like Chromebooks, tablets, and Wifi. “These are things we’ve never done before. Three years ago we were an in-person school district and now we have multiple options for parents to manage.” Additionally, SPS must “continue to manage a [budget] carryover that will help us…maintain our financial responsibility to our community going forward.”

School Board President Melinda Ryan praised the administration, saying, “Kudos to you guys—you’re having to run three completely different schools with one budget. Operating on fumes is asking a lot.” Board member Larry Hoover concurred, concluding, “we are facing such a unique battle right now.” 

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E. B. Thompson

E. B. Thompson

Born and raised in Sapulpa, Elizabeth has a Bachelor’s degree in American Studies and is a former banker. She is thrilled to be back in her hometown with her husband Michael and to be contributing to The Sapulpa Times.