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How much will it cost to reopen schools safely with COVID-19 changes?

Many school districts say it's very challenging to try to determine ballpark figures for how much it will cost ahead of the school year

TAMPA, Fla. — It's the million dollar question no one seems to know the answer to. How much will it cost school districts to reopen safely during the coronavirus pandemic?

The struggle to answer this question is due to a few reasons, school districts say there are so many unknowns right now. Those unknown elements like how many students will choose to take virtual classes versus those who will attend physically are preventing them from figuring out estimated costs yet. 

We reached out to school districts in Polk, Pasco, Citrus, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee and Sarasota counties. So far, Hillsborough County School District spokesperson Tanya Arja said, "I don’t know that I can provide a dollar figure of what it will cost to reopen schools. We don’t know yet how many students are coming back to campus versus virtual. Or how many will take the bus versus parents driving them. We won’t even know how much it is to clean depending on if we’re doing thorough wipe downs or have to do a deep cleaning." All of those elements impact the estimated costs of transportation, additional staffing, cleaning, etc.

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Manatee County School District spokesperson Michael Barber said, "That can obviously be a very complicated question in light of the fact that we operate with a budget of $850 million. I am not sure I can get you an answer today."

With the school year just about one month away from starting, navigating these additional costs to schools should become a priority in order to avoid additional budget problems.

Two school groups, including the School Superintendent's Association, put together one price estimate based on an average district of 3,600 students, 8 buildings, 183 classrooms, 329 staff members and 40 school buses. For cleaning equipment, staff, masks and transportation it would cost just under $2 million. 

To put this into perspective the Hillsborough County School District has 220,000 students. If Hillsborough County used this model, it would cost at least $103 million. Superintendent Addison Davis said they can't afford to give students a new mask every day either.

"When you have 220,000 students, for us to buy single use masks for our children would cost us $9 million a month. And buying enough buses to maintain social distancing would cost over $300 million and that is not realistic," Davis said. 

The governor's office has said it will try to help out school districts as much as it can with things like supplies but hasn't provided specifics. 

For more perspective on cost, The American Federation of Teachers estimated the national cost for running schools safely would be about $116 billion over current spending and the Council of Chief State School Officers estimated even more money saying between $158 - $244 billion.

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