SHARON – Sharon school board members discussed an online schooling initiative that could keep students – and cyber charter school dollars – within the district.

Business Manager Tresa Templeton said school board members focused last week on the cyber initiative and will discuss expenditures and updated revenue figures at future school budget hearings.

Justi Glaros, supervisor of curriculum, instruction and assessment, presented the board with a cyber academy proposal for the 2020-21 school year.

“The goal is to provide distance learning to students and to build trust with current students,” Glaros said. “We want to re-engage families and not lose families to outside cyber and charter schools.”

Sharon City School Board approved a preliminary 2020-21 budget that calls for spending $39.6 million, but did not set property tax rates.

The board will hold budget hearings at 6 p.m. June 4 and June 25 before adopting a final budget. Public school districts are required to adopt a final budget by June 30.

Board members will devote these sessions on closing an estimated $2 million gap between expenditures and expected revenues.

When a student enrolls in an outside public cyber or charter school, the student’s district of residence is required to pay the cyber or charter school the cost of educating that student. Sharon loses more than $3 million a year, or approximately $245,000 a month, in charter and cyber school payments.

During the 2019-20 school year the district had between 145 and 160 students enrolled in a cyber or charter school at any given time.

Glaros said she had contact information for 88 families with children enrolled in cyber or charter school. She was able to ask 26 of them why they chose cyber-charter school and if they would be willing to send their child back to school in the coming year. About half of the families said they would consider returning their children to traditional schooling.

“They seemed to appreciate someone reaching out and offering an alternative solution,” Glaros said. “Some had health issues or issues where they lost trust or faith with the district. Climate, culture and families’ perspective played a role.”

Glaros said that she believes Sharon could lose students for 2020-21 to cyber and charter schools because some parents could be concerned about sending children with compromised immune systems to public school in the fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a significant concern across Pennsylvania,” she said.

Glaros said the savings for the district could be substantial. The monthly per student cost to attend Keystone Charter School in West Salem Township is $1,200. Fees are higher for special education students.

She said the school can retain $8,000 to $10,000 per child yearly under the cyber initiative.

The proposal calls for every student to get a workbook and a Chromebook and to use teachers from the school district who would check in on students every day. Glaros said the having the district take over cyber schooling would decreased costs while increasing the level of attention from teachers.

“It’s considerably cheaper to have students enrolled in the district’s cyber program than to have them in other cyber programs,” Glaros told the board.