BERRYVILLE — Clarke County Public Schools will use the bulk of federal economic stimulus funds its receiving to help students whose learning may have fallen behind during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The school division is getting $1,270,045 through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) III Fund, part of the American Rescue Plan Act. Of that amount, $872,424 will be used to help pupils. The remaining $397,621 will go toward air-conditioning improvements at D.G. Cooley Elementary.
Monday night, the Clarke County School Board approved the spending in a unanimous vote with no lengthy discussion.
The division has until Sept. 30, 2024, to spend the funds. That will enable the money to be used in the current fiscal year that started July 1, with any residual amounts being carried over to the next budget year, CCPS Superintendent Chuck Bishop said.
Many students who were behind in their studies 17 months ago continued to fall behind due to circumstances surrounding the pandemic, Bishop said. An example is students having to learn online through remote instruction while classrooms were closed.
“The lack of reliable internet in some areas of the county made accessing instruction difficult for some of our students,” Bishop wrote in an email to The Winchester Star on Tuesday. “Some reluctant learners did not participate in spite of our efforts ... to engage them in classroom activities.”
Furthermore, “students who receive specialized services in a normal year lacked consistency in those services in the hybrid or fully virtual (learning) models,” he wrote.
Using the ESSER funds, the division will hire eight math and reading interventionists to work during the next two academic years. The interventionists will provide remediation to students who haven’t yet reached expectations for their grade levels. They will be divided among the schools and assist students for 25 hours per week, according to a letter that Bishop sent to County Administrator Chris Boies.
Some of the money will be used to provide after-school services to students needing even more help. It will be used to pay teachers, instructional assistants and bus drivers to work extra hours, as well as cover their federal payroll taxes, the letter showed.
Rules for using ESSER funds specify they are to go toward operating schools safety and addressing students’ academic, social, emotional and mental health needs. School building repairs and improvements to indoor air quality are allowable uses because they contribute to students’ emotional and physical well-being, which can help them learn better.
Rooftop air-conditioning units at Cooley weren’t replaced when the buildings were renovated in 2013. Bishop wasn’t superintendent then; he came to Clarke County the following year. However, “it’s my understanding that the project budget wouldn’t sufficiently cover the replacement,” he told The Star.
And, “at the time” he said, “they were still performing fairly well, so the decision was made not to replace them. Now, they are seven years older and need to be replaced.”
Four new units will be installed on the lower campus building to replace ones almost 40 years old, Bishop said.
Last week, following a public hearing during which nobody spoke, the Clarke County Board of Supervisors voted to allow the school division to accept the stimulus funds.