As Maryland school system leaders grapple with how to safely resume in-person learning, one thing is clear: It will be very expensive. Four superintendents told a state Senate committee Wednesday that they need millions from the state to make it work.
In Baltimore City, each air purifier costs $800. Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Santelises said those were a priority because most of the system’s 168 schools’ buildings lack high-quality HVAC systems.
“We all talk about what needs to be done, but it is important to understand there is a cost to keeping kids safe,” Santelises said. “There is a cost to keeping staff safe.”
Including personal protective equipment and technology that lets students learn remotely, Santelises estimated the school system spent about $131 million by early August on pandemic-related costs.
“Nobody's giving out free wifi the last time I checked, and believe me, I check frequently,” she said.
In addition to the same PPE and technology costs, Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Monica Goldson said she expects a wide array of other costs to come up. For example, the schools likely need more mobile carts that can be used to deliver food to students, rather than allowing students to congregate in cafeterias.
Like Baltimore, Prince George’s County schools are also looking into air purifiers, “which, for a school system that has 206 schools, one per building, I can't even fathom how we could potentially pay for that,” Goldson said.
Enrollment has also declined substantially. State funding for schools is calculated per-student, so that is another hit to school budgets.
Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith said school leaders will want some help from the General Assembly to bolster the funding that comes from the per-pupil formula. Smith said he expects many of the students who left to return as the pandemic ebbs.