Amid surging virus cases in many parts of Maricopa County and the state, Tempe Union officials appear on course to keep classrooms open to students only two days a week for the foreseeable future.
Assistant Superintendent Sean McDonald last week told the Governing Board the county’s COVID-19 metrics for the district as well as ZIP codes within and outside Tempe Union’s boundaries “are trending in the wrong direction” and the administration gave no indication it was considering an expansion of its current hybrid learning model.
The benchmarks released by the county the day after the board’s Nov. 4 meeting showed that two of the three metrics that districts rely on for guidance on closing or opening campuses were in the minimal virus spread category and the other showed moderate spread.
“Our plan has always been to monitor the metrics provided by the state,” Superintendent Dr. Kevin Mendivil told the board, not mentioning the state’s change in advice that recommended districts close only if all three benchmarks show substantial virus spread.
Cases per 100,000 people rose from 74 the week of Oct. 17 to 87 the week of Oct. 24, putting that benchmark in the moderate spready category.
The data are 12 days old when the county posts them.
The percentage of positive new test results rose from 4 to 4.2 percent but that remained at a level for minimum virus spread, as did COVID-like symptoms in hospital visits, which rose from 3 to 4 percent.
Kyrene showed similar levels for all three benchmarks.
Within Kyrene’s boundaries, cases per 100,000 rising from 65 to 77 and hospital visits going up from 3.06 to 4 percent. However, the percentage of positive new test results dropped from 4.16 to 3.7 percent.
The metrics for Ahwatukee’s three ZIP codes tracked similarly except for 85045 – where cases per 100,000 people more than doubled from 61 to 147 but the other two metrics showed minimal virus spread.
Amid total student and staff populations that exceed 18,000 in Kyrene and 14,500 in Tempe Union, the number of virus cases is 12 and 22, respectively. Among individual campuses, Desert Vista High School recorded the highest number with eight cases.
While there was little discussion of COVID-19 at the board meeting, there was some talk about the pandemic’s impact on the district’s budget.
Assistant Superintendent Diane Meulemans told the board that the district is hoping for a one-time infusion of $3,652,943 in enrollment stabilization funding from the state, although the final allotments of that funding for each school district in Arizona won’t be known until Nov. 19.
The money aims to offset the loss in per-pupil funding Tempe Union and all districts have incurred by students who learn at home. The state reimburses districts at a lower rate for those students as opposed to those who learn in classrooms.
Meulemans said Tempe Union’s enrollment overall has fallen about 3.5 percent as a result of the pandemic – less than the estimated statewide enrollment decline of 5 percent.
But she and Mendivil stressed that the additional funding likely would not cover all the expenses Tempe Union has incurred as a result of the pandemic – especially since many of those expenses like will continue since the virus likely will be around for months.
“We’re feeling good about this year,” Meulemans said. “Next year is when we have no idea what will occur.”
Citing the costs of contact tracing when a student or staffer is infected as well as the additional cleaning and other mitigation measures Tempe Union has implemented to protect against infection, Mendivil echoed Meulemans’ assessment.
“We’re in a good stable position for this school year and these funds help us to be more stable,” Mendivil said.