by Marc Broklawski, cross-posted from Medium
We’ve all talked a lot about the science and learning models around #COVID19, in Stafford County Schools, but one thing we haven’t focused as much on is the NEED for school funding.
Once the health data supports it, if we ever want to reopen our schools for in-person learning for everyone, it requires additional funding.
The CARES Act includes $3B in direct, flexible education funding for governors to provide to school districts, higher education, early childhood education and other education entities. This education funding is part of the Governor’s Emergency Relief (GEER) Fund.
Virginia has received $587M in GEER funding. $238.6M of these funds are included in the Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief (ESSER) Fund for K-12 activities.
CARES Act ESSER Fund allocations are based on each school division’s relative share of Title I, Part A, Federal Fiscal Year (FFY) 2019 funds. In calculating division allocations, adjustments were made to account for a state-level set-aside of $23.9M, which will be used to meet the needs of schools in regard to special education, instruction and assessment, student social and emotional health and COVID-19-related health and safety in school buildings. More information on these funds will be made available at some point.
Stafford County will be receiving $1,571,030.44 in ESSER funds. There are a lot of flexibilities provided on how these funds may be used. They generally should be used to prevent, prepare for, or respond to COVID-19.
Additionally, the Stafford County Board of Supervisors received $13,338,365 in CARES Act funds that they can use for necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to COVID-19.
On June 2, 2020, the Stafford Board of Supervisors passed Resolution R20–191 unanimously. The resolution essentially “loaned” the school district $1,105,000 in CARES funding to purchase Chromebooks for distance learning and directed them to use the GEER funding first for this purchase; and, includes language that would allow them to claw back the funds provided.
Then on July 7, 2020, the Stafford Board of Supervisors voted to approve Resolution R20–180. This resolution allocated the remaining $13M in cares act funding they received minus the $1.1M “loan” for the Chromebooks and approx. $500K in county expenses.
What did the schools receive? They received $20K for thermometers, gloves; $250K for masks, desks and face shields; $350K for hand sanitizer, soap, dispenser and portable sinks; $120K for transportation cost for meals; and, $250K to improve Internet services to expand online learning capabilities. While this is all great, this barely scratches the surface of what schools need to be able safely reopen for in-person learning when the health data supports it.
So, Stafford Schools received $990K from the Stafford Board of Supervisors in CARES funding out of the approx. $13M that they received — so only 7% of the total funding.
School transfers have been declining for some time. At one point, the schools were being appropriated 60 percent of county revenues and that has continued to drop to around 50 percent today. Yet, they only received 7 percent of the CARES Act funding? Once again, schools are getting the short shrift.
Our schools need significant investment to improve our ventilation systems to increase outdoor air supply rates at least to the ASHRAE minimum to help dilute any airborne virus; MERV 13 air filters are needed now and should be changed more frequently; we need portable air cleaners with HEPA filtration and Clean Air Delivery Rates of 300 (scfm) in classrooms less than 1,000 sq. ft.; need air cleaning devices with ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI); and, need to assess building pressure distributions to understand whether opening a window would cause air to be drawn in from other occupied parts of the building, which could be counter-productive.
The Stafford Board of Supervisors gave Parks and Recreation $450,000 for Bipolar Ionization upgrades for their HVAC systems. Is it more important to upgrade these systems or those in our schools?
They also provided business bailouts totaling more than $2M, including $600K for hotels. I’m all for supporting local businesses, but if our schools can’t safely reopen in-person then working parents won’t be able to return to work, businesses will continue to suffer and we’ll just have to bail them out again. Why is there a higher priority in bailing out businesses than our schools?
We’re also bailing out “nonprofits not currently funded by [our] locality]” to the tune of $250K vs. funding our schools?
They also provided the Sheriff’s Department nearly $25K for “Gas masks for Civil Disturbance Teams that come into contact with large groups of people?” Here’s an easy solution — don’t gas peaceful protestors. I haven’t seen anything locally that would necessitate this expenditure.
The military can’t use tear gas against terrorists, so then why are we allowing the Board of Supervisors to approve its use by the Stafford Sheriff’s Department?
I’ve also lost count on all the “COVID-19-related” IT expenses. I’d really questions whether some of them are “necessary.” We need 22 card readers to enhance Government Center security to the tune of $75K? That “COVID-19-related” expense is a higher priority than our schools? Do we really need 316 laptops and peripherals to the tune of $509K for teleworking? We need ESRI Redistricting Software to the tune of $4K, since clearly redistricting is a “COVID-19-related” expense. We are paying $65K for website redesign and data migration for the Department of Community Engagement? I can go on and on about some of the IT costs. Sure, some may be necessary; however, all of this seems like a little overkill.
The Board of Supervisors have allocated $580K for hazard duty pay for public safety, but can’t provide funds for hazard duty for our school staff that will be working in-person (e.g. SPED, ESL, admin, health, etc.) and have continued working in-person through the summer?
On July 28, 2020, Governor Ralph Northam announced a second round of CARES Act funds would be distributed to localities. The Stafford County Board of Supervisors would be receiving an additional $13.3 million — bringing the total to approximately $26.6 million.
Let’s hope their priorities are different in the second round of funding and prioritizes working families and our schools, students and staff.
Aside from the aforementioned ventilation needs, how about using these funds to provide working families subsidized childcare options instead of bailing out businesses. Bail out working families — including our school staff.
Our schools will also need more teachers for the various instructional models and more counselors and social workers. They will also need a huge technology investment. I’ll talk more about this in a subsequent post.
If we want to open for in-school learning at some point, and stay open, we will also need an investment in COVID-19 testing. The Stafford Board of Supervisors should plan on putting aside some of the CARES Act funding on COVID-19 tests for school staff and students.
The Stafford County Board of Supervisors should finally acknowledge that our school system is the centerpiece of our local economy. It is our highest employer. It is our highest jobs producer. It is our best attraction to offer to businesses looking to locate. Children under the age of 18 constitutes 25 percent of Stafford’s total population. And most of those children, at some point, will be educated by Stafford Public Schools.
Our schools are the pride and the engine of our economic development. It would behoove the Board of Supervisors to recognize that and invest in our schools appropriately.