Quite a bit can be accomplished with $6 million in federal funding.
Caledonia Central Supervisory Union Superintendent Mark Tucker — who oversees Danville, Waterford, Barnet, Peacham, Walden, Cabot and Twinfield Schools — detailed past, current and future uses for the $6.54 million in federal funds allocated to the SU for COVID-19-related relief in his September Superintendent’s Report.
The funds have arrived through three rounds of Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief (ESSER) allocations authorized by Congress: $463,955 for ESSER I, $1,874,127 for ESSER II and $4,208,748 for ESSER III.
Most of the ESSER I funding was used for the SU’s summer elementary and high school programs, held in July with participation from students in all seven schools.
“The approach to ESSER II allocations has been to ask each school what they needed to get ready for, or to operate in, the upcoming school year,” writes Tucker in his report.
Those funds have been and continue to be used for investments in professional development, grant-funded (temporary unless schools and their boards decide to make them permanent) intervention staff — some of the positions the schools have not been able to fill due to supply — and building infrastructure repairs needed to keep the schools open. These include significant upgrades to the heating plants at Waterford and Walden Schools — which, as Tucker noted to the Caledonia Cooperative School District (CCSD) board on Monday evening, were both well beyond their useful lifespan — as well as modifications to classroom space structures at Cabot and Waterford Schools.
Professional development funds are being invested in various programs, including “Lead to Read,” which helps educators meet the literacy needs of students, “Responsive Classroom,” which focuses on social and emotional learning, and school-specific summer planning.
Tucker detailed during last week’s regular Danville school board meeting another opportunity the SU is taking advantage of, the Vermont Superintendents Association’s Inclusive Education Project, which will start up at the end of the month.
It is a year-long study project aimed at getting schools better prepared to teach and intervene with kids before they get into the special education program, so that such costs are not incurred. According to Tucker, the SU is expecting to see a reduction in what the state funds in terms of special education through the block grant model.
Seven SU staff, including principals and teachers, as well as Peacham School Board Chair Mark Clough, who is employed as Vice President of Community National Bank, will be participating in the program.
The ESSER III funding, the largest portion of dollars, has not yet been touched, but the SU is hard at work figuring out how to best use the bulk of the funds to support afterschool and continued summer programming. Tucker noted the recent hire of the new Early Education Director Bethany Hale, whose duties include directing after-school programming across the SU.
Six of the seven schools already have afterschool programming (Cabot will begin offering it this year), and Tucker noted that Hale will be playing a reduced role in schools that already have successful programs (Peacham, Twinfield). Tucker told the CCSD board on Monday evening that Hale began work last Tuesday and has already started meeting with principals on how to best support their program.
According to Tucker, there has not been SU-wide direction of the afterschool program in the past few years; duties have been left to building principals.
The SU is looking to lower or potentially eliminate the cost of afterschool programs across the seven schools.
“Right now, in Danville’s case, families that have a kid involved in the afterschool program are paying $10 per day,” Tucker noted last week. “In a four-day week, that’s forty bucks a week, and if you’ve got three kids, that’s a lot of money.”
“We’re going to get that cost down,” he continued. “My goal is to get it to zero; I’m not going to commit to that, we’ll see what the need is.”
Tucker noted, however, that if family costs for afterschool programs decline, participation may increase enough to cap out capacity limitations.
“We’ll try to accommodate as many families with kids as we possibly can in each of the schools,” he said.
As Tucker noted in his report and told each of the SU’s school boards, ESSER fund dollars are not money that can be used to “buy down” tax rates.
“It’s extra money meant for additional costs and expenses related to COVID mitigation,” he said.
While Tucker noted to the Peacham board last week that there has been some talk about additional ESSER funds coming out of the infrastructure bill, but he wasn’t planning on anything.
“This is a pretty substantial amount of money and I think we’re putting it to good use,” he said.