Schools Across the Region Outline Varying Ideas for Spending Federal Dollars

School districts across southeastern Connecticut are in the process of drawing up plans for how they intend to spend millions of dollars of federal funding that will be available over the next two years. The money comes in the form of two anticipated grants, known as ESSER II and the American Rescue Plan. 

The proposals include a variety of projects, from outdoor classrooms to bilingual therapists, summer enrichment and chromebooks. 

Here is a rundown, district by district: 

Lyme-Old Lyme

Ian Neviaser, superintendent at Lyme-Old Lyme schools, said the district won’t be using the combined $1.48 million in federal aid for the district on hiring new personnel.

“After the money runs out, you still have an employee that you have to pay,” he said.  “We’re looking to use these monies for one-time purposes.”

Instead, Neviaser said, the district is putting the funds toward infrastructure projects, in particular, outdoor classrooms.

At an April 7 meeting, the region’s board of education approved a contract of no more than $30,000 with Vinal Technical School in Middletown to build a classroom at Mile Creek Elementary School in the form of a 15 foot by 30 foot gazebo. The Vinal Technical School students will construct and assemble the project over the remainder of the spring and the beginning of next school year.  

The district is also proceeding with plans to build an outdoor classroom for the middle school, a post-and-beam gazebo built of pine timber to match the outdoor courtyard. At a meeting on May 7, the board approved a contract of $49,729 with the firm J.M. Carpentry to build the structure. 

The district is also planning a third outdoor classroom at the Lyme School for next year. 

Neviaser said they were planning to replace the oldest pieces of playground equipment at the three elementary schools, which will cost approximately $304,000. 

“Center School here is generating a lot of splinters,” Ron Turner, director of facilities and operations, said at the April meeting. 

The district has also set aside $92,000 for an evaluation for potential renovations at the three elementary schools and the middle school, which Nevaiser said were last updated in 2001. 

Old Saybrook

Julie Pendleton, the district’s director of operations, facilities and finance, outlined in an April 27 board of education meeting the district’s plan for the $449,000 the district will receive in ESSER II funds.  

Part of the money will be directed toward compensating 30 teachers for 36 hours of summer enrichment programs over a two-year period. Funding will also ge directed toward a week of intensive summer training for teachers. 

Funding will support the hiring of a bilingual therapist and provide mental health consultants, such as a part-time social worker, as well as alternative programs for high school students with emotional disabilities.   

“They allow us to bring these resources in without committing us to additional staff on an ongoing basis,” explained Pendleton. 

Pendelton said funding would be used to help engineer an air quality upgrade at Goodwin Elementary School.  

Superintendent Jan Perruccio said that two federal grants, plus an additional $500,000 in savings from the 2020-21 school year, presents an opportunity to “capture this money to do long lasting wonderful things for the students and for the school district.” 

Perruccio said in an email that the district has “very tentative” plans for the over $800,000 the district expects to receive from the American Rescue Plan Act. The plan includes academic and socio-emotional programming and infrastructure work. 

Region 4

Long-term substitute teachers are a priority for the $119,000 that Region 4 is receiving in ESSER II funds, said Superintendent Brian White at a board of education meeting on May 6. 

The district is also planning a multi-year summer program for credit recovery at Valley Regional High School, where White said 36 students could benefit from the program this year.   

White said that additional money would be directed toward socio-emotional learning programs and techniques for the students at the high school. 

In an email, White said that the district was expecting $280,000 in American Rescue Plan funds, and that they were awaiting further guidance from the state before deciding how to use the money.

Clinton

At a board of education meeting on April 5, Superintendent Maryann O’Donnell outlined a plan to use the $772,944 in ESSER II grant money for additional staffing, technology investments and HVAC improvements. 

Planned staff additions include two para-educators and three teachers — focused on mathematics, English as a second language and curriculum writing — on one-year contracts. Two behavior technicians and a K-12 guidance counselor would also be contracted for two years. 

O’Donnell said the district would use $8,000 to update the HVAC system in one intensive learning program at the middle school where she said the staff “often have to be full PPE.” 

The district will fund $64,500 toward purchasing chrome tablets for the pre-kindergarten program and chromebooks for grades 2 and 3. The district will also direct $12,281 toward a summer program transitioning students back to school and supporting students about to begin high school. 

O’Donnell said the district does yet know how much money it would receive under the American Rescue Plan, but that she expected it to amount to more than $1 million. 

With that funding, O’Donnell said, the district is considering HVAC upgrades at the elementary and middle schools, touchless faucets in the bathrooms and additional funding for mental health and special education, as well as funding for summer programs. 

Madison

The anticipated return of a large number of students to Madison Public Schools has prompted the district to direct a portion of the $1.23 million in federal funds that the district will receive toward hiring two additional elementary school teachers on one-year contracts.

Superintendent Craig Cooke said at a board of education meeting on April 6, that he expects about half of the students who left for private or parochial schools to return to the district next year. Cooke told CT Examiner that Madison saw low kindergarten enrollment this school year, a decline he expects will be offset by a large class next year.  

Cooke told CT Examiner that the additional teachers will allow for smaller classroom sizes and more individualized instruction. 

Grant money will also be directed toward hiring two interventionists to provide reading help at the elementary school level. Those positions would last for three years. The money will also fund two social workers, additional building substitutes, technology devices, an information database for security purposes and two years of programmed social-emotional support at the middle schools.

Guilford

For Superintendent Paul Freeman, the goal of academic support isn’t to re-teach students everything they missed last year, it’s to prepare them to start off the school year where they would have been without the pandemic-driven interruptions. 

“We want to make sure we are not creating a second year of impacted opportunities,” said Freeman.  

Guilford expects to receive around $1 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan, which Freeman said will help fund summer programs, afterschool or evening opportunities, teacher training, and social-emotional supports like school-based psychologists or counselors. 

The district has spent $520,000 in ESSER II funds to compensate for additional costs over the past year, including hiring multiple custodians, health aides, permanent substitutes and lunch and recess aides. The district also hired two or three high school teachers to reduce targeted class sizes. 

East Lyme

“The whole point of this is to try and hit hard with recovery this year,” Superintendent Jeffrey Newton said at a board of education meeting on April 27.  

For Newton, “hitting hard” means hiring a number of teachers, tutors and staff members. The list includes six paraprofessionals, two kindergarten teachers, two second grade teachers, a middle school social worker, three elementary school technology teachers, an elementary psychologist and a coordinator for the high school’s student support center. 

Salaries for the staff members will be paid out of ESSER II and American Rescue Plan funding, together totaling about $2.67 million. Newton said that when that grant money expires, the district would determine whether any of the temporary positions would be absorbed into the district’s operating budget.

The grants will also fund two years of summer instruction, duct cleaning at the middle and high schools and home internet access. 

An additional $500,000 will offset a deficit in the district’s 2020-21 operating budget.  

Waterford

Waterford Superintendent Thomas Giard III said that technology was a “silver lining” of the pandemic, opening the door for activities like virtual dissections and the use of Google Classroom. 

The district is using a substantial portion of nearly $1.16 million in ESSER II grant money to fund technology upgrades.

Giard said that with 2,400 children and nearly 600 teachers on electronic devices each day, the district needed to make sure that the school wi-fi network could accommodate the traffic.

The district also plans to hire a school psychologist and interventionists to help students with math and reading. Since the school eliminated 10 teaching positions from its operating budget — because of declining enrollment, Giard said — the intention is to hire interventionists from within the district. 

Giard said that a portion of the additional $2.37 million from the American Rescue Plan will support the creation of a medical office at the middle and high school with a registered nurse on site. Giard said this would be a two-year pilot program in partnership with United Family and Community Services. He said school officials also want to offer on-site behavioral health, such as access to psychotherapy. 

“We’re seeing increased needs. For some of our kids, they will not have stepped foot in a school for 18 to 20 months,” said Giard. “We’re going to be able to use federal stimulus money for two years and really show proof of concept.”

The American Rescue Plan funding will bolster a summer enrichment program with partnerships with Mystic Seaport, the CT Science Center and the Lyman Allyn Art Museum. 

Federal dollars will also be directed toward academic tutors, literacy and math intervention at the high school, special education, offsetting the cafeteria deficit and constructing seven temporary “outdoor classrooms” with tents and seating. 

Stonington

“Don’t go into next year with a deficit mindset. Kids will surprise you,” Mary Anne Bruder, the district assistant superintendent, told the board of education at a meeting on April 8. 

Bruder said she wanted to use the funds in creative ways. 

“We’re going to share some ideas that might not sound super classic, and might challenge your thinking about what’s best for children,” she said.

Bruder said that 21 percent of students at West Vine Street School and 33 percent of the students at the middle school are receiving ongoing mental health services, pointing to a need for more social-emotional resources.

She also said the districted wanted to provide academic support particularly in mathematics.

$86,702 will be directed toward funding summer school programs, including a kindergarten readiness program for children who haven’t had an opportunity to attend preschool, credit recovery for 30 high schoolers and credit acceleration for incoming 9th graders. Some of these programs will also be paid for through general funds. 

According to a district survey, about 61 elementary school families and 70 middle school families expressed interest in sending their children to summer school.

The district has proposed hiring at least 20 new staff members, including teachers, tutors, special education teachers, interventionists and specialists in mental health and social-emotional learning.   

“We have noticed we have had a significant number of Ds and Fs,” said Bruder.

The ESSER II funds will cover the staff salaries for one year. However, at a meeting on May 13 Superintendent Van Riley proposed using approximately half of the $2.584 million in the American Rescue Plan to continue funding the staff for the 2022-23 school year. 

Riley proposed placing the remaining $1.2 million to update the HVAC system at the high school and install new air conditioning in the middle school and the board room. 

The district is also putting aside some of its general funds to furnish learning spaces at the middle school.

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