Tucson Unified School District board discusses cost of reopening following COVID-19

Tucson Unified School District board discusses the cost of reopening following COVID-19

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - School may return in the fall, but will students and teachers?

In a recent USA Today poll, 1 in 5 teachers said it is unlikely they will go back to in-person lessons.

“[I’m] still trying to figure out how we ended this year,” said Marivel Yanez, a kindergarten teacher at White Elementary.

It was not an easy end for Yanez. She says the last nine weeks of school were a whirlwind, and she won’t have long to catch her breath.

“[I’m] trying to figure out how to get ready for the beginning of the school year,” she said.

To prepare, there must be a plan.

The Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) board began discussing what reopening might look like.

“I think it’s important for us to understand what it’s going to look like as far as financially; how much we have spent thus far, and if we are going to be adhering to a much stricter cleanliness code,” said Adelita Grijalva, a TUSD board member.

Those guidelines could be key in teacher retention.

“When we did a survey among the region, about 80 percent [of teachers] reported they really need to feel safe,” said Margaret Chaney, the president of the Tucson Education Association (TEA). “Not only themselves, but certainly their students.”

The TUSD board is looking at the potential cost of giving each student a facemask (either daily or weekly), investing in more disinfectant and online learning tools, and cutting class sizes. It could add up to more than $20 million.

Tucson Unified School District safety costs.
Tucson Unified School District safety costs. (Source: TUSD)

“Are we going to do this virtual again? Are we going to do half and half?” Yanez said.

Also, would cutting class sizes mean teaching every lesson twice?

“There goes more of my time, on my dime, not on the district,” Yanez said. “Do I think we need a raise? Yes! On top of what we are already getting? Yes, of course.”

It comes at a time when TUSD is dealing with the financial fallout of the virus. Still waiting on state aid funding, cuts could be a possibility.

“I think that because we have the need for qualified teachers in our classrooms, it won’t be teachers,” said Grijalva. “My concern is that the cuts would hurt our lowest-paid employees more than it would others.”

For Yanez, throwing in the towel has never been an option.

“Teaching is a passion, it’s a career, it’s my life,” she said.

The district absorbed an unexpected $3.4 million in losses due to school closures.

Discussions on how to make up for budget shortfalls and what to spend on safety measures will continue.

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