Schools consider spending options for $8.5 million relief money

Updated: Feb 9


By Jamie Wiggan


-Education-


Area school districts have been boosted by more than $8.5 million in the latest round of coronavirus relief funding.


Distributed Jan. 15 by Pennsylvania’s Department of Education, the funding came from remaining portions of the $2.2 trillion Federal CARES ACT passed by Congress in March 2020. Statewide, $2.2 billion was distributed to public districts using a federal formula based on low-income enrollment levels.


Guidelines issued in a press release say the money can be used for “a wide range of activities, including food service; professional training; technology purchases; sanitization and cleaning supplies; summer and after-school programs; and mental health supports.”


At Sto-Rox, which was awarded $4.15 million, administrators are considering their options before moving ahead with plans to spend the money.


Eric Brandenburg, a business consultant for the district, said a previous wave of relief funding helped sure up the district’s technology capabilities and so officials were now exploring the extent to which the money could be used for other programming needs.


“We’re pretty good with technology,” Brandenburg said. “We need to see how we can use this.”


The Sto-Rox district faces long-term financial challenges, having passed a budget for the current tax year that forecasts adding $3 million to its existing debt load.


“We need every penny, there’s not doubt,” Brandenburg said.


With more than 90% of students belonging to low-income families, Sto-Rox received a higher share of relief funding than all other area districts.


Cornell Superintendent Aaron Thomas also said his administration is weighing up options for the $1 million it received through the relief funds.


“We have two-and-a-half years to spend this money, so we are taking our time determining the best avenues to go down in terms of programming,” Thomas said.


Thomas said initial ideas include introducing additional programing over the summer to make up for educational gaps caused by the pandemic fallout, as well as more far-reaching plans to develop an intervention program for students whose learning has taken a lasting hit.


“We really want to prioritize the learning loss issue that some of our students are going to experience,” he said.


Having received $1.9 million from the relief pool, Superintendent John Kreider said the Carlynton district will also direct much of its share toward additional student programing.


“As we move forward our goal is to safely offer in-person instruction to our students and focus on learning gaps created by the pandemic,” he said. “We plan to allocate significant funding…to close these learning gaps through personalized learning activities, remediation programs, and additional learning opportunities.”


Kreider said the district may consider applying some of the funds for capital improvement projects once student needs have been met.


Officials from the Montour School District, which received $1.5 million, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.


A press release issued by the district Jan. 28 indicated some of the funds would be used to help stave off property tax hikes in the upcoming budget.


“Although we have been impacted financially by this pandemic, our fiscal stability has allowed us to weather this storm,” the release states. “With the receipt of additional state and federal CARES Act funding, we feel confident in our ability to balance the budget and provide for our programs and staffing without necessitating a tax increase.”