MASSILLON – Massillon City Schools officials continue to examine the best way to use federal COVID relief funding.
In a letter from the board of education and Superintendent Paul Salvino to the Massillon Education Association, the leaders addressed suggestions from the teachers’ union to better use Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding, federal dollars funneled through the state to local districts to aid in costs incurred because of the pandemic.
The MEA, which represents more than 300 educators, has been critical of the board’s approval of 10 extra paid days for 31 administrators, including the superintendent.
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Salvino has said the bump was not a bonus but a way to compensate staff who worked additional time last year to address the COVID-related obstacles faced when Gov. Mike DeWine closed schools across that state.
“We did not make that decision (to close the schools) nor were we in favor of it,” the letter said. “During our work to re-open, we were faced with many concerns and roadblocks that made for difficult decisions. All of those decisions were made to support our students.”
The first round of funding was used for meeting technology and securing additional staff.
The board took to task the union’s timing.
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The board questioned why the union leadership didn’t address the issue during a May 24 labor relations meeting.
An hour after the meeting, the union sent its second letter with suggestions for the funding. Those ideas could have been addressed at the meeting, the school board wrote.
The MEA contends Salvino was aware of the group’s concerns and chose not to put the item on the agenda.
“No issues are discussed that are not on his agenda,” said Alyssa Plakas, spokesperson for the MEA. “This is an expectation that Mr. Salvino will not negotiate.”
The board said it wants to continue to have input from the union, as well as collaborate with the organization.
While some of the union’s suggestions are not feasible, like putting temporary air conditioning in the elementary schools, the district is already working toward some of the initiatives, officials said.
The union’s proposal called for additional staffing, including full-time nurses for each school and additional counselors and aides.
The district employs five full-time RNs for the seven school buildings, a substantially higher number than surrounding districts.
A short-term solution could be getting qualified medical personnel through other agencies.
The district has added two additional school counselors in the past three years. The latest being an elementary position that was posted this week, which would give each elementary school a full-time counselor. There are four at the middle school and four at the high school.
The board said it has steadily increased the focus on financial backing of mental health support by partnering with local agencies to provide school-based mental health counseling at all levels.
A new social-emotional health program will be introduced for the kindergarten through eighth grade; training is planned for August.
Mental health is an area the board plans to continue to emphasize.
More changes coming
The union suggested aides be added to every kindergarten classroom.
While that is not in the district plan, next school year there will be two kindergarten aides in each of the three elementary schools, an increase from the past year.
The union also called for intervention and other resources to address the learning gap kids might have experienced due to COVID.
The board indicated they are looking into several after-school learning opportunities to address academic needs with ESSER funding as the primary funding.
District officials pointed out that the ESSER funds will eventually expire and they might not be able to sustain the cost of added staff.
As it stands now, ESSER funding can be used until Sept. 30, 2024.
The first allocation of ESSER funds – $1.3 million – was distributed at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year.
Officials said there were still many unknowns, especially with state funding losses.
The district used about 70% of the first COVID relief funds to support staff in place to deal with the pandemic response initiatives, including technology teachers and support, custodians and maintenance and long-term subs needed to fill in for staff working with online learners.
The second payment of ESSER funds was not available until March.
The district anticipates more than $8 million will become available in mid-to late-summer. Those funds will require more extensive planning.
“As indicated in the initial response to all staff within the Massillon City Schools, we are still planning for future allocations and will administratively make those decisions,” the board wrote.
“This Board of Education prides itself on transparency, being student-centered and governing the operations of the Massillon City Schools,” members wrote.
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