KSN Investigates: The new cost of education

KSN Investigates

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – The AASA School Superintendents Association estimates schools across the United States will spend $25 billion on personal protective equipment (PPE) this fall. But that’s not the only thing that will cost school districts. Many districts are spending millions on technology for things like laptops, tablets and MiFi devices.

On a typical order, Wichita Public Schools USD 259 will buy 13,000 gallons of hand sanitizer, 5,000 buckets of disinfecting wipes, 160,000 cloth face masks, and 230,000 disposable masks. Because this is very different from previous years, it is unclear how long those items will last.

It is the new cost to education and keeping your children safe in the classroom from COVID-19.

“Just a plethora of items that we never would’ve considered purchasing before that now have become our norm, at least for the time being,” said Fabian Armendariz, USD 259 operations director.

Wichita Public Schools is spending $3.5 million on personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies. It is also spending more than $14 million on remote learning technology, like tablets, software and even power strips.

“It’s been incredibly difficult,” Armendariz said.

The need is great for a district that reports 76.5% of its 47,236 students are living in poverty. USD 259 didn’t estimate a final price tag for what it will need for the rest of the school year. Prior to the academic year, workers spent time adjusting to the new normal by stocking up on personal protective equipment and installing plexiglass dividers. At one point during the school year, employees did temperature checks on students. Students also wiped down their own desks.

“This is just a really odd year,” said Marilee Fredricks, chief financial officer, Geary County Schools USD 475.

USD 475 has a fluctuating number of students and faculty because of nearby Fort Riley. Several of its families are in the military.

“As of last March, when we started seeing that COVID-19 wasn’t going away, we stopped spending on items that you didn’t need because all of the students were in remote learning,” Fredricks said.

While it stopped spending on things like ink cartridges and certain office supplies, it lost about 315 students after families chose to home-school.

Our KSN Investigation found the costs are anything but equal when you compare school districts both large and small.

School PPE and/or Tech Spending

DistrictEnrollmentExtra SpendingAverage
per Student
Wichita USD 25947,236$17,500,000$370
Olathe USD 23330,000$6,189,437$206
Shawnee Mission USD 51227,000$1,647,686$61
Lawrence USD 49711,700$699,684$60
Garden City USD 4577,700$2,162,000$281
De Soto USD 2327,400$104,746$14
Salina USD 3057,000$951,015$136
Geary County USD 4756,750$831,044$123
Cimarron-Ensign USD 102655$101,000$154
Kiowa County USD 422280$87,947 $314
Ingalls USD 477246$119,341$485

We reached out to several school districts and each one of them confirmed getting money from the coronavirus aid bill and/or SPARK (Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas) funding to help pay for the new challenges associated with the pandemic.

But some districts, like Wichita Public Schools, have had to find additional money.

“We’ve had to do some creative things,” Armendariz said. “Obviously we got some CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) money, but that CARES money didn’t go all the way to cover all of our needs.”

Geary County Public Schools confirmed it dipped into its savings to cover some of these costs. It does not want to have to change staffing levels.

“We will do everything we can to keep everything at the same level, but at the same time we have to be good stewards of our money,” Fredricks said.

The district estimates it will spend $2.97 million by the end of the school year. The district said it does have enough money on hand right now to pay for this.

“We absolutely can cover that cost,” Fredrick said. “We are set up wonderfully financially to do that, but we would also love to get the federal aid to take care of that cost.”

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