The Vernon school board unanimously agreed to apply for a grant of about $1.5 million from the federal government.
The approved funding for Vernon, called ESSER III (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund) – which was listed at $1,459,239 – is part of the American Rescue Plan recently signed by President Joe Biden.
The district has already received ESSER I funding, which was part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), for personal protection equipment at the beginning of the pandemic. ESSER II funding was used for the district’s upcoming summer and mentoring programs. Both were authorized by President Donald Trump.
At the June 10 school board meeting, assistant superintendent Charles McKay said this latest round of funding extends the ESSER grants through Sept. 30, 2024.
“That’s a crucial piece because it adds a year onto the grants we already had,” he said.
The money will filter from the federal government to the state, which will then distribute the funds. The district is projected to get about $1.4 million in two installments, but it could be more or less.
Superintendent Karen D’Avino said 20 percent must go toward addressing learning loss. The money can also be used for academic interventions, summer learning, summer enrichment, extended day activities, and programs to address the needs of low-income children.
Administrators said they are concerned about student apathy as they enter a more normalized 2021-22 school year.
“We’re hoping we can engage our students back to our school in the fall,” D’Avino said.
The grant also leaves room for the district to dedicate funds for facilities. D’Avino said the district needs to develop a long-range facilities plan to repair or replace windows and doors, do ventilation work, and buy supplies to make the buildings safer and reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission.
“We want to empower our faculty to feel really confident about the upgrades we can pay attention to with the ESSER III funds so they don’t have to worry about the other stuff and can just focus on the children,” she said.
McKay said the funds can be used to reinstate the 3:30 p.m. late bus at the high school, which had been discontinued to save money. The district must file for the grant by November, he said.
“I would like to see the ESSER III funds are being used to supplement existing programs, not to supplant existing costs to the district,” said school board president Justin Annunziata. “These grants are being given to districts to respond to an extraordinary circumstance.”
“We want to empower our faculty to feel really confident about the upgrades we can pay attention to with the ESSER III funds so they don’t have to worry about the other stuff and can just focus on the children.” Superintendent Karen D’Avino