The Volusia County School Board met Nov. 10 to discuss a number of items. Here are some of the highlights.
As Volusia Live nears its Jan. 22 expiration date, the Volusia County School Board is concerned about the consequences. When Volusia Live ends, students will need either to return to classrooms, or switch to the Volusia Online Learning platform, a self-guided, self-paced method.
A mass exodus to Volusia Online Learning, however, could spell financial trouble for the district.
The School Board receives money from the Florida Department of Education based on the number of students enrolled full time. As it stands, until Jan. 22, Volusia Live is a government-approved hybrid alternative to brick-and-mortar classes, so the state pays for students enrolled in Volusia Live the same as if they were physically in classrooms.
Volusia Online Learning, on the other hand, is different.
“We get about $2,000 less per student … when we’re reimbursed. Of course, our budget is built on brick and mortar,” said Debra Muller, Volusia County Schools chief financial officer. “This is clearly why we have a lot of work to do, and we have a lot of communications that we need to make on an ongoing basis with the state, with DOE, with the governor, because we have to bring the attention to them of what is happening in our schools if they don’t hold us harmless.”
As of Oct. 26, a total of 6,921 students were enrolled in Volusia Online Learning, while some 12,584 were enrolled in Volusia Live. Volusia County has roughly 61,000 public-school students.
The Nov. 10 School Board meeting was Board Member Ida Wright’s last.
“I’m looking forward to whatever my next challenge God has for me,” she said.
Wright, whose School Board seat represents Daytona Beach-area District 2, was up for re-election Nov. 3, but lost the race to challenger Anita Burnette.
Wright received nearly 18,000 votes, while Burnette received 26,405.
George Marks Elementary is still cleaning up debris after the Aug. 18 tornado that hit DeLand. Representatives from the companies doing construction on the George Marks campus — Harvard Jolly Inc. and Wharton-Smith Inc. — are seeking additional time and approval of a purchase order to speed up the cleanup. The cleanup team has to remove debris and repair some of the elementary school’s fencing.
Unclear why School Way Cafe is losing money, or even how much
During the School Board’s discussion of internal audits, Member Jamie Haynes sounded an alarm about the cost of operating School Way Cafe, the USDA-funded arm of the school system that feeds children throughout the district.
“That’s an area that typically makes money, and is self-sufficient, that now we could be looking at a loss,” she said. “Have we lost funding every single summer when we’ve done summer feeding? And if we’ve never lost money during summer feeding, why have we lost it now?”
Haynes said operating costs from this summer through the present were millions of dollars more than they were in the spring.
The alarming numbers were apparently provided to School Board members in a recent email. The Beacon has requested a copy.
Haynes said one possibility for higher costs could be increased packaging used for pandemic-safe food distribution, but still said she did not know how the difference could be so great.
Chief Financial Officer Debra Muller attempted to explain.
“I think the problem really was twofold. Again, it went back to all of a sudden we were in a pandemic and everything was closed and there was no revenue, but then we started serving meals to the community, to students,” Muller said. “It’s similar to what we’ve been experiencing: You start down a path, you’re doing the best that you can for students, and you’re trying to juggle the different parameters that are going on and that are changing daily.”
Muller also said the high cost could be inflated by the fact that School Way Cafe has not yet received some reimbursements it was expecting.
Volusia County Schools has not yet responded to The Beacon’s request for clarification on the School Way Cafe finances.