School Funding

Bumps in the road as LI school districts scramble for $ 850 million share of federal funds


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THEOng Island school districts scramble to get shares of more than $ 850 million in federal COVID-19 relief money, even as state-level questions arise over whether the money is correctly followed.

The deadline for districts to apply for federal funding is September 30. However, coordination between federal, state and local authorities in organizing the distribution proved difficult, and districts were granted several time extensions to submit applications.

WHAT THERE IS TO KNOW

New federal stimulus money for Long Island schools totals over $ 850 million – the largest U.S. investment in half a century.

The official deadline for district applications is September 30, but the state is offering extensions as school districts scramble to prepare requisition forms.

A non-partisan advocacy group supports that monitoring of aid distribution is inadequate; national education officials reject this assertion.

Meanwhile, a relatively small number of Long Island school systems – around 15% of the total, according to a Newsday spot check – have released state-required reports on how they intend to spend the dollars. federal. Most of that money comes from stimulus packages approved in Washington, DC, in December and March, and is expected to be spent over the next three or four years.

Stimulus funds are distributed on a federal formula based largely on the number of students from low-income families in each district. The allowances vary greatly from one district to another.

Local spending proposals are designed to meet a variety of purposes, from extracurricular classes aimed at helping students catch up with their classes, to installing ventilation systems designed to protect against infection. In the counties of Nassau and Suffolk alone, planned federal aid is $ 855 million – the largest such investment in half a century.

How the funds are spent

The funding was “extremely helpful”.

-Kathleen Bannon, Superintendent

School district: Copiague

Plans for stimulus funds include: Double the number of bilingual social workers from 4 to 8

estimated cost: $ 400,000 annually

A priority for Kathleen Bannon, superintendent of schools in Copiague, is to double the district staff of bilingual social workers from four to eight. This, Bannon said, will help the district reach the homes of Hispanic students, who make up more than 60% of local enrollments.

Bannon estimates the cost at $ 400,000 per year, adding that the additional staff could prove invaluable, at least for years when COVID-19 relief money remains available. The district’s total federal allocation is about $ 23 million, according to the State Budget Division.

“We’re generally underfunded at Copiague,” said Bannon, now in his seventh year as superintendent there. “So this money we were given was a total surprise. I don’t even know how to express our feelings. It was extremely helpful.”

Huntington School District Superintendent James Polansky at his

“Most of the infrastructure on Long Island is 50 or 60 years old. “

– James Polansky, superintendent

School district: Huntington

Stimulus fund plans include: Improved ventilation and air conditioning in its eight school buildings

estimated cost: About $ 4 million

Huntington, meanwhile, hopes to invest around $ 4 million to improve ventilation and air conditioning in its eight school buildings, as well as $ 122,000 for 234 contactless water faucets. The faucets help protect students from viral infections by allowing them to turn on the water through electronic sensors without touching the faucets themselves.

The district’s total allocation is around $ 8.2 million, according to the budget division.

Huntington’s superintendent James Polansky said buildings in his neighborhood were already up to code, but planned renovations would make things better. “Most of the infrastructure on Long Island is 50 or 60 years old,” he said.

Last year Elwood Schools Superintendent Kenneth Bossert.

“It was truly a wonderful opportunity for our community. “

– Kenneth Bossert, superintendent

School district: Elwood

The stimulus fund plan includes: Extracurricular sessions to help students obtain required course credits

Estimated cost: To use part of the $ 380,000 provided to help students make up for lost learning

In Elwood, part of the federal aid provides $ 380,000 to help students compensate for lost learning. The district plans to use some of the money to fund extracurricular sessions that help teens get required course credits.

“It was truly a wonderful opportunity for our community,” said Superintendent Kenneth Bossert, referring to federal aid which he said was about $ 4 million.

Monitoring scrutinized, defended

Across New York State, the magnitude of the federal windfall did not become apparent until April, when the state provided credit from both its own money and US federal dollars. for all districts. This left local administrators with limited time to plan for the 2021-2022 school term, which began on July 1.

Last week, the Citizens Budget Commission, a non-partisan research and advocacy group with offices in Manhattan and Albany, released a report concluding that financial oversight was inadequate. The report urged the state to step up its tracking of federal education dollars and release periodic updates, particularly on whether the money has been spent effectively to help students recover from the “learning loss” suffered during the pandemic.

Patrick Orecki, the commission’s director of state studies, said in the report that new funding, both federal and state, “is not accompanied by an adequate management, oversight and accountability process.” .

“On an ongoing basis, the state should manage, wait and hold districts accountable for improving outcomes and reducing disparities in education, using the data it makes public,” added Orecki, who previously worked for the state budget division.

Taxpayer lawyer Laurann Pandelakis, from Manhasset, agreed.

“At a time when people are fleeing New York State because of exorbitant property taxes, especially school taxes, taxpayers can expect some responsibility,” said Pandelakis, who is active in a group. of Regional Defense, Long Islanders for Educational Reform.

In response to the commission’s report, officials from the state’s education department told Newsday that they have provided significant financial planning support by districts, also known as local education agencies. , or LEA. Topics covered in state notices included the use of summer schools and after-school programs to make up for lost teaching time.

Emily DeSantis, a spokesperson for the department, said her agency “strongly believes that transparency and accountability in how schools and districts spend state and federal funds is paramount to ensuring that all funds are spent. in an appropriate manner and for the intended purpose “.

DeSantis added that the department has systems in place to approve and track district spending.

A total of 829 districts, charter schools and other LEAs have obtained approval for federal allocations as of December, state education officials said. Requests are being reviewed by 372 LEA for a large part of the March allocations, the officials added.

A leading local educator, Phyllis Harrington, who is superintendent in Oceanside, agreed that the districts are held accountable.

“The application process was very detailed,” said Harrington, who is also chairman of the New York State Board of Principals. “Before you get a dime back, you have to explain how you spent that money.”

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