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Trumbull schools see a windfall

Staff graphic / Patrick E. Litowitz

Keeping employees at work and addressing student learning losses in sanitized, better-ventilated buildings are just some examples of how school districts in Trumbull County will use three rounds of federal relief funds.

With Ohio schools being awarded $4.47 billion in American Recovery Act funds, area public school leaders now are trying to figure out the best ways to use this money over the next three years — to get students back on track with learning and strengthen their districts.

With this latest round of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds, there will be an estimated $6.88 billion released since the schools were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic last March.

Some districts, including Youngstown, only reopened to in-person school learning last month. Other districts instituted hybrid models of instruction where students were taught online for two or more days per week and attended in-person school hours on alternatives days.

Many districts returned to five-day-per-week classes in buildings at the beginning of the fall quarter.

Area school leaders said their primary goals will be to keep students and employees safe and to reverse possible learning losses by providing extra classes this summer, into the next school year, and possibly next summer.

To obtain their allocated share of the money, districts must apply for reimbursement to the Ohio Department of Education for approval under established rules.

Schools have until Sept. 20, 2022, to use their allocations of the ESSER I funds; until Sept. 20, 2023, to use ESSER II; and Sept. 20, 2024, for ESSER III.

Here are some examples of how these dollars will be put to use locally.

WARREN AND NILES

Warren City Schools received an allocation of ESSER III funds is $30,772,474, according to the Ohio Department of Education. The district has the second-highest amount of third-round funds available to it in Trumbull and Mahoning counties.

Only Youngstown, which has more than $50 million in ESSER III funds available to it, can spend more.

It was allocated $13.71 million last February through this second round of ESSER funding and received $3.5 million in federal CARES Act funds in the first ESSER round issued last year.

The disbursement amounts are based on the Title I funds a district receives. Title I provides federal funding to schools based upon percentages of low-income students. Funds are used to support at-risk students.

Niles Treasurer Rhonda Amorganos expects that district to have used most, if not all, of the $913,743 it received in ESSER I funds by June 30.

A portion of the $3,493,203 from ESSER II is being used to maintain cafeteria staff employees whose positions were jeopardized during the time the district’s building were closed to students and were at reduced capacity.

The more than $7.8 million in ESSER III funds are expected to be used to continue buying necessary personal protective equipment and electrostatic cleaners, maintain district personnel and expand some programs purchased.

ESTABLISHED NEEDS

“We’re also looking at improving our HVAC systems and purchasing several buses,” Amorganos said.

The Niles district has been in fiscal emergency since 2019. Some of the projects for which it is qualified to receive reimbursement will address already established needs that the district did not have the resources to address.

Brookfield schools are eligible to receive $2,394,714 in ESSER III funds over the next three years. The district was allocated $276,308 in the ESSER I funds and $1,066,280 in ESSER II.

Treasurer Julie Sloan said the district used much of the first ESSER allocations to purchase Chromebooks, Wi-Fi hotspots for students, online software for students and teachers, cleaning materials, face masks, thermometers, and other items to make schools safe. The district also paid for a part-time custodian, who worked throughout the day sanitizing the buildings.

“We were not one-to-one as far as Chromebooks, but, using the ESSER funds, we now have one for every student,” Sloan said.

The district has spent approximately $169,535 of its ESSER I funds. Much of the remaining money has been encumbered for specific purchases, such as a summer camp program. Some has been set aside to pay for salaries of the employees.

The Brookfield district will use a portion of the ESSER II funds to purchase two school buses. They are expected to cost about $70,000 each.

There have been some early preliminary discussions about the ESSER III funds, but no decisions have been made.

Howland schools are projected to have $3,465,752 in ESSER III funds available.

Treasurer Samantha Pochedly said most of the $392,000 in ESSER I funds the district was allocated were used to purchase PPE, temperature scanners, Chromebooks and Wi-Fi hotspots.

BUILDING NEEDS

The district is looking to improve air quality in its buildings by having work done on its HVAC systems using ESSER II funds. It also is doing some roofing repairs to address air quality to the building.

Districts were not allowed to use ESSER I funds for these types of improvements.

The district also is looking to purchase an online learning platform and provide remediation courses for students over the summer.

“We are bringing in some additional staff to work with students during the next school year to get them back up to where we believe they need to be,” Pochedly said.

She said the extra funds are not only helping to address problems created by the pandemic but also concerns the district had prior to it.

“We must sit down with administrators and supervisors to develop plans and budgets for what we may want to do with the ESSER III funds,” she said.

LaBrae Superintendent Anthony J. Calderone expects all of the $310,538 the district was allocated with the ESSER I grant will be exhausted by June 30. While the district purchased PPE supplies and equipment, it also used part of the fund to preserve three positions that otherwise may have been lost due to the pandemic.

Like most school districts, LaBrae is waiting to have its submissions for the ESSER II funds approved.

LEARNING LOSSES

“A lot of treasurers across the state are submitting their reimbursement requests,” Calderone said. “We will use this money to address learning losses that may have developed over the last year. “

“We are developing student programming and literacy initiatives tied to learning losses,” he said. “Because we believe this will continue, we have money for supplies in the next two fiscal years.”

The district is finalizing summer school programming for the next two years to address the possible learning loss. But Calderone noted the plans are flexible enough to adjust base on the level of learning loss they discover among the district’s students.

Twenty percent of the ESSER III money must address learning loss.

“It is hard to quantify the possible learning loss students may have experienced,” Calderone said. “Our students lost half of their face-to-face instructional time. We have been using the last nine weeks to determine where we would normally be at this time of the year.”

Educators are focusing on priority standards and foundational skills.

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