By Dedra Cordle
The South-Western City Schools District is preparing for its third round of federal COVID-19 relief funds.
At its meeting on Aug. 9, the board of education was presented with a projected spending plan for its $61.1 million allocation through The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER). The plan includes infrastructure improvements, learning loss initiatives, and the construction of additional classroom space at some of its buildings.
According to Treasurer Hugh Garside, this recent allocation comes with the requirement that 20 percent of the total sum be set aside to focus on student learning loss caused during the course of the pandemic.
He said the district’s objective to address this issue will be to continue summer school programming through 2023, partner with the YMCA of Central Ohio for social and emotional support for students in grades K-6, hire five student support liaisons for its four high schools, and allocate funds to each school for individual building initiatives for tutoring services.
The district also plans to use this portion of funds to purchase additional Chromebooks over the course of three years. The district’s first round of ESSER funds (approximately $6.5 million) primarily went toward the purchase of Chromebooks to provide each student with a laptop to take home.
The remaining $45.6 million is projected to be spent on updating facilities and operations. Under the plan, all five of the intermediate schools will receive HVAC renovations as would Central Crossing High School and the South-Western Career Academy. The recreational centers at Grove City, Franklin Heights, and Westland High Schools would also receive HVAC renovations.
Other objectives include adding classrooms to Hayes Intermediate and to reconfigure space at Buckeye Woods and Darby Woods Elementary. There are also plans to demolish the greenhouse at the SWCA to make room for additional classroom space.
Board member David Donofrio asked why the demolition of the greenhouse was necessary. Superintendent Dr. Bill Wise said it was because the horticulture program has been discontinued at that location.
“It hasn’t been offered as part of our career tech pathway for several years now, partially because of student interest and partially because of the market and the credentialing,” Wise said.
He said they felt they can make “much better use of the space” with the proposed demolition of the greenhouse.
If there are reserves left over from their ESSER III allocation, the district plans to purchase a facility for a preschool near West Broad Street, address the HVAC issues at the District Service Center, and construct four classroom additions at Holt Crossing Intermediate School.
The board of education had no objection to the proposed ESSER III spending plan. With the approval, the plan will now be sent to the Ohio Department of Education for Review. Should the state board raise objections with the plan, amendments will be made during future meetings. All ESSER III funds must be spent by September 2024.
Garside said should they receive approval from the state, they will quickly move forward with the process to get the planned construction started.
“Due to the economic state we’re in right now in the country with inflation and the supply chain issues, we’re going to try to get moving on these projects as fast as possible so we can get the most bang for our buck,” he said.
This will likely be the district’s last allocation of federal COVID-19 relief funds. In addition to the $6.5 million they received during the allocation of ESSER I funds, they also received an allocation of $27.2 million in ESSER II funds during the 2020-2021 school year. Those funds were primarily spent on establishing the Virtual Learning Academy, the purchase of Chromebooks and the purchase of cleaning supplies and materials. Garside said only 40 percent (or $10.8 million) of that allocation remains but it should be spent by the end of fiscal year 2021-22.