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Valley schools stretch pandemic relief

Austintown Fitch High School junior Ryan Yeager sanitizes a divider between classes. The district received more than $900,000 from CARES Act funding for COVID-19 related purchases. Some Valley school districts worry that pandemic funding may fall short of needs.

Rounds of federal and state dollars are helping Mahoning Valley schools through the COVID-19 pandemic.

These reimbursement-style cash infusions are intended for purchases such as supplies and personal protective equipment — and even staffing.

Depending on each school community’s financial condition, some school districts, such as Youngstown, received more money while others, including Canfield, received less.

Some school district leaders say the plan has worked well.

Others, however, are concerned they will exceed the funding on their transactions stemming from the pandemic.

The two pools of money are called the Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief (ESSER) fund and the Coronavirus Relief fund. Both of these funds are paid to the districts from Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The ESSER funds are provided from the federal government to the school districts, while Coronavrus Relief Funds are money provided to the state and then distributed to the school districts.

Here are a few examples of how the dollars are being put to use locally.

RELIEF

When the coronavirus tightened its grip on Ohio and schools and businesses were affected by state stay-at-home orders, school districts around the state learned they would see a decrease in funding.

But then Congress passed the $2 trillion relief package, with $13.2 billion for schools, grades kindergarten through 12. The CARES Act allocations are based on a community’s wealth

The Youngstown City School District received $5,655,164 in ESSER funds and $375,289 from the Coronavirus Relief Fund. About $1.5

million, however, had to be provided to non-public schools located within the district’s boundaries.

Hot spot devices were purchased as well as 600 laptops for staff and 500 Chromebooks for students, explained Denise Dick, spokeswoman for the district. The district is doing all-virtual schooling at least for its first nine weeks this year.

But Canfield Local schools had a different dollar outcome because that community fares better economically than Youngstown.

Canfield was still hit “really, really hard,” explained Traci Hostetler, superintendent of the Mahoning County Educational Service Center.

When state cuts were announced before the CARES money arrived, Canfield schools initially would have taken an 11 percent hit.

“Initially, we got hammered,” said Superintendent Joseph Knoll, noting the initual figure was a total $683,278 loss.

There was a 6 percent cap approved by state lawmakers, however, ensuring that no district could lose even more funding, Hostetler said.

That 6 percent meant Canfield schools ultimately saw a net reduction of $362,000, Knoll explained. “We got a little bit of relief than what the initial cut was.”

The district will see $164,072 from the ESSER fund and $126,753 from the Coronavirus Relief Fund. But Knoll noted that an estimated $200,000 has been spent on materials associated with the pandemic, not including additional personnel.

Costs were PPE and other pandemic-related items. Also, “We’ve had to hire some additional folks to help us,” he said.

Part-time custodians will be hired to perform “deeper cleaning” after the school day, targeting frequently touched areas such as door knobs and restroom fixtures.

“It’s just what we’ve needed to get to where we can open things up in a safe way,” Knoll said.

LASTING IMPACT

Everything being purchased to combat the coronavirus, Knoll said, should be able to be used beyond the pandemic, including the district’s Cardinal Digital Academy.

The online school was introduced this school year, Knoll said, and should continue to be offered in years to come.

“The reason why we started… We have kids that maybe have difficulties making it through a traditional school day,” Knoll said.

Earlier this year when he was vying for the role as superintendent, Knoll shared that he envisioned bringing more technology to Canfield. The pandemic brought that vision to fruition.

“We needed another option for our kids and parents who said, ‘We’re not going to come back in person no matter what the state plan is,'” he said. Of the district’s 2,600 students, nearly 15 percent, or about 400, are enrolled in the remote option.

“If we didn’t have that option, I don’t know what those parents and kids would have done except leave, which we wouldn’t want,” Knoll said.

The virtual curriculum came with a cost of between $18,000 to $20,000, with the district’s teachers leading most of those classes.

OTHER EXAMPLES

The Lowellville school district received $48,003 and $23,014 from the funds.

“This money was mostly used to purchase additional Chromebooks for students to ensure they would have access to technology,” said Bryan Schiraldi, Lowellville schools treasurer.

PPE and sanitation supplies also were purchased with some of the money, Schiraldi said.

Schiraldi explained that Lowellville, along with other districts, will be receiving “a couple rounds of relief funding.”

“The district continues to be diligent in planning for the students’ return to school by ensuring we have the necessary PPEs and sanitation supplies on hand. We’ll continue to purchase what is needed to maintain a safe environment while being fiscally responsible with the purchases we make,” Schiraldi said.

The district purchased webcams for staff in order to support remote learning.

Poland Local Schools received $130,691 and $84,993 from the funds, which Superintendent David Janofa said went toward 300 Chromebooks.

Janofa noted that $15,000 went to Holy Family School, which is part of the school district.

Also purchased were sanitizing supplies, digital thermal scanners and PPE, Janofa said.

Janet Muntean, district treasurer, explained that districts spend the money then submit proof of purchases by receipts.

However, “once you hit your allocation, you are done spending,” she said.

Boardman Local School District received $786,508 and $226,435 from the funds. As of Thursday, the district’s virus-related expenses were $635,000.

Superintendent Tim Saxton said purchases will include, but are not limited to, masks, gloves, face shields, additional cleaning supplies, hand sanitzer, and plexiglass desk barriers.

afox@tribtoday.com

SCHOOL DISTRICT ESSER FUNDS CORONAVIRUS RELIEF FUND*

AUSTINTOWN $736,337 $235,685

BOARDMAN $786,508 $226,435

CAMPBELL $672,877 $63,641

CANFIELD $164,072 $126,753

JACKSON-MILTON $162,696 $45,420

LOWELLVILLE $48,003 $23,014

POLAND $130,691 $84,993

SEBRING $148,034 $24,600

SOUTH RANGE $91,785 $61,034

SPRINGFIELD 145,891 $86,899

WEST BRANCH $371,854 $115,468

WESTERN RESERVE $43,923 $36,444

YOUNGSTOWN $5,655,164 $375,289

*Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief (ESSER) is federal dollars

Coronavirus Relief Fund is state money

SOURCE: Ohio Department of Education

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