Families of about 1,500 students in the Manhattan-Ogden school district have elected to have them attend online-only classes.

That number was higher than expected and has left the district scrambling to balance the teacher-and-student ratios, which resulted in officials denying all transfer requests ahead of the start of school next week.

Assistant superintendent Eric Reid told USD 383 school board members on Wednesday that he had anticipated up to 20% of students would go remote.

However, when the Aug. 12 registration deadline passed, that number reached about 1,500 students in all grades, which is nearly one-fourth of students. More than 900 of those students are in elementary school.

In an average year, the district will get 200 to 300 transfer requests for children to attend a school outside of the attendance zones where they live.

“What threw a complication in there was COVID, just like it’s been complicating every part of life.” Reid said. “We really wanted elementary students, whether they were remote or on-site, to be tied to a school.”

As the number of remote learners started rising, it became evident staffing would need rearranging.

“As we look into our remote school, we are looking at a districtwide program where you’re going to have some students from Bergman, some students from Amanda Arnold, some students from Woodrow Wilson,” he said. “We are going to try to make it work the best we can.”

Adding to the complication is not knowing how many students who are starting in remote will remain in that model throughout the school year.

USD 383 expects families to commit to their path for at least a semester, or a trimester at the elementary level.

As the district works through the physical distancing protocols, officials need the in-person numbers.

“It’s very difficult to give a transfer to a student who is not there,” he said. “We did not grant any transfers to the students.”

As the numbers of online versus in-person fluctuated, Stephanie Smith, director of child nutrition, also had to make adjustments.

“Our biggest issue that we kept running into with every scenario we would go through was space that we have and having students on site and trying to serve those students and then trying to serve families that are not in session or completely remote,” she said.

To start the year, Smith said the district will have meal pick-up for the remote families at the central kitchen on Mondays and families who live in Ogden will pick up their meals there. Beginning Sept. 1, students will bring meals home with them during times of hybrid learning.

When the 2020-21 school year starts next Wednesday, the district will be under a “hybrid model,” which calls for two days of in-person classes and three days of online classes for the students of families who choose in-person learning.

Smith told the board she expects changes to the meal plan as the district moves through the first weeks of school.

As food service staff members work on feeding children this school year, the board recognized their efforts from when the school first shut down in the spring. They approved a one-time $400 hazard pay bonus for 61 employees. The money comes from the federal government; it was earmarked for child nutrition employees.

“We had a lot of breaks in schedules, but we had one crew that started right away and was on the front line the entire time … and that was child nutrition service,” Reid said. “That also includes some transportation employees.”

In other business:

  • The board approved raising the hourly salaries for substitute teachers in the 2020-21 school year by $3 an hour. The district averages needing 60 to 70 substitutes a day and depending on the day, as high as 100, said Andrew Turner, director of human resources.

“We currently have 132 substitutes … there are about 40 of them who have reservations to coming into the classroom,” Turner said.

The board also approved wage increases of 1% for administrators and managers, and 3.5% for classified employees.

  • Wednesday’s board meeting started with a public hearing for the 2020-21 school budget. No one showed up in person or had submitted comments. The board later approved the $113 million budget.

The property tax rate is 61.636 mills, a decrease from this year’s rate of 62.137. A mill is $1 in tax for every $1,000 in assessed, taxable property value. A property owner who paid $668.57 in school taxes on a $100,000 home in 2020 would pay $669.90 for a $101,000 home in 2021, using the average existing residential property value increase of 1% in Riley County.

  • Reid reported on the district receiving $1.26 million in Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas (SPARK) money from Riley and Pottawatomie counties.

The federal government gave coronavirus-relief money to Kansas, which gave the money to counties to distribute to various entites.

“We made requests for county SPARK money from both Riley County and Pottawatomie County,” Reid said. “We didn’t get everything we asked for but we did receive a decent amount of money. I am not going to complain about it whatsoever.”

From Riley County, USD 383 received about $1.072 million. Pottawatomie County gave just over $192,000; about 900 of the Manhattan-Ogden students reside in that county. Reid said the money is in addition to dollars the school received in the spring and must be spent by the end of the calendar year.

“We are extremely grateful to our county partners,” he said.