Despite the switch to remote learning,
Sarina Smolev ’22 filled her days with fairly normal routines: attending daily classes, albeit via Zoom, and completing typical loads of homework before connecting with her peers. On a call with a friend who attends public school, however, Smolev realized that her student quarantine experience was not the standard across the nation, nor even the city. While Smolev was ramping up preparations ahead of AP tests, her friend had not attended school of any form in weeks, since her campus closed.
“Private schools have more resources and funding to handle financial complications from the coronavirus, so I think the situation is being handled as effectively as possible at our school,” Smolev said. “On the other hand, public schools have much more limited resources, so they are probably in a more difficult situation of handling financial complications and the overall effects of the virus.”
Students discuss the differences between how public schools and private schools will respond to financial difficulties.
According to Education Week, 48 states ordered or recommended schools to close halfway through the spring semester and continue with online instruction for the rest of the academic year, in order to help mitigate the virus’s spread. These closures affect approximately 55.1 million students and more than 124,000 schools across the country. In addition, school districts are now relying on state money for funding more than ever, according to the New York Times. State revenue, however, is generated from income and sales taxes, both of which have been impacted as businesses close down due to the pandemic.
“A big difference is that public schools depend largely on state funding, which is likely cut short as states need to spend money on the fight against COVID-19,” Jacky Zhang ’21 said. “This means that they don’t have the same kind of financial resources to conduct online classes in the best way. I know that it took a while for [Los Angeles Unified School District] schools to set up online classes and even when they do have online classes now, most students only get a few hours, usually three or less hours, and spend a large amount of time doing assignments on their own.”
Chief Financial Officer David Weil ’93 said that the school’s financial practices have proved beneficial in the wake of the campuses’ closures.
“None of us among school leadership or the Board of Trustees made financial plans for this exact scenario,” Weil said. “We have, however, consistently run the school in a financially-responsible manner, knowing that scenarios like this might arise. Doing so has enabled us to enter challenging times in a position of greater strength and with greater ability to help than what might otherwise have been the case.”
Summer programs are also financially important for the school. This year, these sessions will continue, and have been altered in ways intended prevent major losses, Director of Kutler Center and Summer Programs Jim Patterson said.
“While the summer program does generate revenue for Harvard-Westlake, the business model can expand or contract based on the number of classes and programs we are able to offer,” Patterson said. “[This summer’s] model minimizes the potential losses to the school. That said, it is still possible that the school could suffer a financial loss from the summer program this year. Luckily, Harvard-Westlake is well-positioned financially to absorb any potential loss this summer. It is a true testament to the solid foundation built by years of good stewardship of the school’s resources.”
Students discuss how the Stimulus Package will help the school.
To help ease panic surrounding the pandemic, President Donald Trump signed a Coronavirus Stimulus Package, the largest relief bill ever passed in the country, according to the Washington Post. The package allocated $13.5 billion to K-12 schools for essential aid, which will directly support the costs of shifting to online classes and provide emergency funds for students. Still, LAUSD is expecting an estimated $200 million
in emergency coronavirus costs after supplying food, remote instruction, computers and safety equipment, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“The stimulus bill is a start,” Smolev said. “It gives relief to students and schools, but I definitely don’t think it’s enough. The government right now has to pay attention to a lot of other medical needs and shortages, businesses and the overall economy. They’re most likely going to spend money there and not as much on schools. It’s nice to see that they are trying to help, but I don’t think it will help in the long-term.”
In order to help families that are unable to adjust to these changes, the school has attempted to minimize cuts in summer programs, Patterson said.
“Adjustments will be made to school programs to move some online and postpone some to later in the summer when it may be more likely to have in person programming,” Patterson said. “Also, the school programs are in a good position to offer high quality programming to families who can no longer send their kids away to sleep away camp or other higher cost programs.”
The school is also providing financial assistance to families and employees, including cafeteria workers, security guards and bus drivers. In addition, the school donated its supplies of masks and gloves to aid local hospitals and homeless shelters. Nevertheless, Zhang said that he thinks the school can always do more to address the economic burdens of members of the community.
“[The school] could raise awareness in the school community and support [small businesses owned by Harvard-Westlake families],” Zhang said. “I know that other schools have done some marketing for restaurants owned by student families and asked their community to support them.”
Regardless of the struggles students and schools are facing amid the pandemic, Smolev said she thinks the school will be able to withstand the extensive changes.
“Schools are facing financial struggles all over the world, and there is always room for improvement,” Smolev said. “But I think all schools, especially ours, is capable of handling the financial situation to give the best outcome for everyone.”