By Rick Palsgrove
What to do with $18.9 million? That’s the question before the Groveport Madison Board of Education.
What is ESSER funding?
Groveport Madison Schools expects to receive the $18.9 million from The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER). This federal money is in ESSER 3 funds, which must be spent by September 2024.
ESSER 3 funding is available to help safely reopen schools and address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on students’ academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs, including interventions to address “learning loss” – delays in students’ academic progress related to the pandemic – and support equity with services and supports for student populations that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted.
Specifically, the funds can be used for: activities authorized under certain existing federal education grant programs; coordinating preparedness and response efforts with state and local public health departments and other relevant agencies to prevent, prepare for and respond to COVID-19; addressing unique needs of low-income students, students with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, foster youth; development and implementation of procedures and systems to improve the preparedness and response efforts of the district; training and professional development for staff on sanitation and minimizing the spread of infectious diseases; purchase of supplies to clean and sanitize facilities; planning for and coordinating during long-term closures (meals, technology, IDEA, and other educational services provided consistent with federal, state, local requirements); purchase of educational technology (including hardware, software, and connectivity) for students served by schools or districts, including low-income and IDEA; provision of mental health services and supports; planning and implementation of summer learning and supplemental after school activities; providing school leaders with the resources necessary to address the needs of their schools; school facility repairs and improvements to enable operation of schools to reduce risk of virus transmission and exposure to environmental health hazards and to support student health needs; inspection, testing, maintenance, repair, replacement, and upgrade projects to improve the indoor air quality in school facilities, including mechanical and non-mechanical heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, filtering, purification, and other air cleaning, fans, control systems, and window and door repair and replacement; and other activities necessary to maintain the operations and continuity of services and continuing to employ existing staff.
Last fall Groveport Madison received $1.9 million in ESSER 1 money that was used to pay teachers working in the Cruiser Digital Academy as well as provide personal protective equipment to students and staff to protect them from the coronavirus.
This spring the district received $8.3 million in ESSER 2 funding used this summer to fund: Cruiser Connect program; pay for eight instructional coaches for teachers to help with reading and math instruction and technology integration in classrooms; 200 computer tablets for pre-school; reimbursements for Chromebook computer losses and repairs; updating staff Chromebooks as needed; and facility improvements.
Groveport Madison Treasurer Felicia Drummey said these ESSER 2 funds must be used up by September 2023.
Decisions on how to spend the $18.9 million in ESSER 3 funds require input from the school board and the community. The district also conducted a survey to obtain community input. The board will make a decision on the final ESSER 3 funding plan at its Aug. 11 meeting. The plan for the ESSER 3 funds must be submitted to the Ohio Department of Education by Aug. 20. Once the ODE approves the plan the funds are released by the federal government.
District officials said they are focusing their plan on how to use the ESSER 3 funding on: academic and instructional support; social and emotional support for students; facilities and operations; and community supports and equity.
Proposed health and wellness center
The district is considering using the ESSER 3 funds to develop a health and wellness center (in partnership with PrimaryOne Health) that would be placed in renovated space at the rear of the District Service Center, located at 4400 Marketing Place in Groveport.
“The primary goal of the health clinic is to assist children who may lack access to quality health services by removing or reducing the non-academic barriers to students’ academic success,” said Groveport Madison Superintendent Garilee Ogden. “The clinic also would provide convenient and much-needed services to their families.”
The proposed health and wellness center would provide: services to anyone needing assistance and be provided on a sliding scale, based on income (the program also would accept Medicaid); the clinic would have its own entrance and would maintain evening and weekend hours; the clinic would take up slightly more than one-quarter of the total space proposed in the renovation; pediatric and adult general health services; dental services; hearing services; vision services; and mental health and therapy services.
District officials said PrimaryOne Health suggested a seven-to-10-year contract.
The District Service Center expansion (the remaining three quarters of the space) would include: Welcome Center (enrollment); social services; Franklin County Sheriff’s Department truancy officers; Franklin County Job and Family Services space; food and clothing bank; and community engagement office/meeting space.
“The district looked into the concept of a community health center several years ago to help address non-academic barriers (physical health, mental health, and family support) that impact our students and their families,” said Ogden. “Other urban school districts have implemented the community health center model and have found it to be a great asset to the schools and community.”
Ogden said, assuming the health and wellness clinic was constructed at the DSC, it’s anticipated it could take more than two years to ready the space for the clinic as the new transportation center would need to be constructed first.
“All funds must be spent by September 2024, so we must adhere to that deadline,” said Ogden. “As proposed, PrimaryOne Health would cover all operational costs, including staffing, furniture and medical equipment, supplies, utilities, etc. Federal ESSER 3 funds would be used only to cover the cost to renovate the space in question. We do not anticipate district general fund dollars being used for any part of the renovation nor to cover the operations of the health and wellness center while under the partnership with PrimaryOne Health, with the exception of maintenance of the building, as it would be our property.”
To accommodate the proposed health and wellness center, the current transportation center (bus garage) would be moved to district owned acreage at the northeast corner of Bixby Road and Hendron Road, abutting Three Creeks Metro Park.
“The site is not suitable for construction of a school, but it could easily support the needs of a transportation center,” said Ogden. “The property cannot be used for a school as it sits in the flood plain.”
Board member Kathleen Walsh is not in favor of using the money on a community health center and instead would like to see the district use the funds to build a new K-8 school building that could house 500 to 600 students on 6.8 acres of land the district owns on Centennial Drive in Independence Village. She said it would relieve student overcrowding and reduce bus routes. She believes the district has time to apply for Ohio Facilities Construction Commission matching funds for a new building.
“We’ve had a golden goose thrown at our feet. I don’t believe that we can’t get something together quickly,” said Walsh, who believes the district has legal standing to use the ESSER 3 funds for a new school. “A new school addresses our health and academic needs. Let’s stop punishing the community and use this as an opportunity. It’s not our job to build a health center.”
Groveport resident Brian Casserly agreed with Walsh, stating the health facility is not needed as there are other health facilities and options in the area and student overcrowding is the “biggest problem.”
“I know it’s hard work. We’re asking you to do the hard work,” Casserly told the board.
Groveport Madison Local Education Association President Joy Bock said the teachers “would love to see improvements at the buildings,” but also want the board to move forward with a health facility.
“Health care is the number one need,” said Bock.
Board member Chris Snyder said he would like to see new schools, but that the ESSER 3 funds should be used elsewhere. He added that a new school in Independence Village would not lessen bus routes significantly because buses would still be required there for high school, special needs, and gifted students.
“I don’t think this is the time or place to build a school in Independence Village,” said board member Nancy Gillespie, who added she would like to see some of the funds used for outdoor learning spaces and to develop a strong environmental science program at the high school. “Let’s prioritize grass over concrete. I want kids to know there’s more to the world than warehouses.”
Ogden said that, while district officials agree new schools are needed to address overcrowding, the proposal to build a school in Independence Village is “unworkable at this time” because, according to a school construction architect district officials consulted, it would cost approximately $27.7 million to construct a K-8 school on the Independence Village site.
“We do not have the additional funds to pay the difference between the anticipated cost and what we will get in ESSER 3 funds,” said Ogden.
She said there is insufficient time to get a bond issue on the November 2021 ballot to cover the difference.
“We would not be able to get any funding from the OFCC since we have not completed an update to their Facilities Master Plan, and we have not taken board action to request their support in this round of funding,” said Ogden. “There is no guarantee that ODE would approve the plan for a new school as it is not one of the 15 allowances (for ESSER 3 funding).”
She added that, since the ESSER 3 funds must be spent by September 2024, “It would be impossible to construct a new K-8 building on the site and spend all of the funds by the required deadline. No work or studies have been done to determine if the Independence Village site is suitable for construction. It’s a very small site, so we would have few options available when citing the building, parking lots, athletic fields, etc. We do not have any architectural plans or drawings ready for a new building of any grade-level configuration.”
Ogden said, regardless of the funding source, “building new schools should include community input into the process, particularly if we consider changing grade levels, reconfiguring the school district, and changing school attendance boundaries. Voters soundly defeated K-8 option schools when voting on the May 2019 levy/bond issue request. We can all make assumptions about why the bond issue failed. Still, we don’t believe we should pursue a new school construction option again without having significant community input and support into the decision.”