COVID-19 disrupts not only education methods but also budget planning in La Crosse

Process depends in part on enrollment, and virtual setups can strain pivotal nose count, La Crosse board learns

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — COVID-19 not only has wreaked havoc with school scheduling but also is tossing a wrench into budgeting, which is based partly on student enrollment, the La Crosse School Board learned Monday night.
The official enrollment is based on the nose count on the third Friday of September, district business services director Patricia Sprang told school board members at a virtual meeting during their first look at the proposed $100.2 million budget for the 2020-21 school year.
Budget figures are fluid at this point, still awaiting the third Friday enrollment, private school voucher limits and final state aid figures, Sprang said.
“It’s very, very preliminary,” she said.
Board president Laurie Cooper Stoll asked how enrollment might be tallied during this year of virtual learning and other educational methods.
“I haven’t heard of the state giving us any breaks,” Cooper Stoll said.
Superintendent Aaron Engel said, “For us (that is based on), did the teacher engage with the student either on the count date or before or after.”
Pressed on the definition of engage, Engel said it can pivot on whether a student logs on for a class.
“Some kids are having difficulty engaging,” he said, and teachers have been scrambling to ensure to draw students into learning.
“Some teachers go to homes to get eyes on the kids,” Engel said, along with other means of reaching out to establish verbal contact.
“We’re taking as liberal a definition to engagement as we can,” he said, noting the importance of the pivotal attendance count.
The district expects to lose 46 students this year, Sprang said, compared with the 214-student loss that rocked the district last year.
It could be a bigger loss, Engel said, adding, “We might be down another 100 students. If we’re down 100 (considering the COVID effect), “I would credit the Coulee Region Virtual Academy” and other initiatives the schools have undertaken.

Districts across the state are encountering the same problems, he said.
The proposed $100.2 million budget is just under 2 percent from the present spending plan.
The board will revisit the budget as an action item on Oct. 5, with the public hearing scheduled for Oct. 19 and budget adoption, set for Oct. 26.
As Sprang zipped through sections of the 86-page budget plan, explaining revenues and revenue limits, levies and assessments and all other factors involved in the budget, Engel assured new school board members not to lose heart.
“It may feel like drinking from a fire hose at this point,” he said with a smile, drawing chuckles from a few members, but he and Sprang will be happy to answer any questions they might have.