By Stefanie Jackson – The Accomack school board on Tuesday night unanimously approved recommendations for spending the more than $13 million it will receive from the third round of the American Rescue Plan’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding, following a public hearing on the matter.
Karen Downing, of Virginia Organizing, spoke during the public hearing to advise the school board: “If we always do what we’ve always done, we’re always going to get what we’ve always got.
“And here we are tonight in unprecedented times in receiving … historic money for investments in our school district,” she said, and asked the school board to consider the funding uses suggested by the public.
Following the public hearing, the school board addressed concerns raised by each citizen who spoke.
Marvin Giddens had recommended that every Accomack student have a computer and a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Chairman Paul Bull said that each student already is assigned a laptop, and Finance Director Beth Onley said the school division is applying for a separate grant to purchase 400 hotspots.
Robert Snyder referred to the school division’s plan to hire three additional translators for the next three years – two for Spanish and one for Haitian Creole – and said that the school division also should teach English to parents.
School board member Camesha Handy noted that courses in English as a second language are offered at Eastern Shore Community College.
School board member Ronnie Holden recalled that at a previous meeting, Snyder had suggested the school division discontinue use of styrofoam food containers in favor of biodegradable containers.
At the Aug. 17 school board meeting, Supervisor of Food Services Brandyn Berkholder reported that using the biodegradable containers would not be feasible because they would cost three times more than the styrofoam containers – an additional $59,000 – and the biodegradable containers leak when holding liquids.
Snyder also suggested giving teachers raises instead of spending about $289,000 on three 77-passenger buses with underside storage, which would be used for school athletics programs.
Onley said the buses weren’t like “fancy” tour buses, and the underside storage was needed for safety reasons.
Willie Justis suggested raises for school bus drivers and custodians; Bull noted that pay increases for those school employees had already been included in the school division’s 2021-2022 operating budget.
Justis proposed that learning losses would be better addressed by hiring more teacher aides, not assistant principals.
Snyder also disagreed with hiring additional assistant principals. “When I went to school, you had a principal, you had a vice principal, that’s all you needed,” he said.
Onley originally had recommended hiring two additional assistant principals for the next three years.
However, her first draft of spending recommendations covered only about $11 million of more than $13 million in American Rescue Plan funds available to the school division, so she made additions to her recommendation, including a total of four extra assistant principals at a cost of about $871,000 over the next three years.
Kegotank and Metompkin elementary schools each will get one assistant principal. Each of the other two assistant principals will be shared – one for Accawmacke and Pungoteague elementary schools and one for Chincoteague’s elementary school and combined middle and high school.
The additional employment positions are intended to be temporary, to address educational issues related to COVID-19. The federal funding may be applied to expenditures made between March 13, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2024.
Additional staffing recommended to address “unfinished learning” included:
- One full-time substitute at each Accomack school (except Tangier Combined School) for three years, for nearly $658,000.
- Two instructional assistants at each Accomack school (except one at Tangier) for three years, at a cost of nearly $1.4 million.
- Two business teachers for three years for about $356,000.
Additional staffing recommended to address student academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs included:
- One mental health counselor for three years at a cost of about $172,000.
- Four guidance counselors for three years, for around $724,000.
- One social worker for three years at a cost of about $172,000.
Onley also proposed extending the contracts of the elementary school guidance counselors by 20 days for each of the next three years at a cost of nearly $120,000.
Similarly, the five guidance counselors currently at Accomack’s middle and high schools will be upgraded from 10-month employees to 12-month employees, at a cost of nearly $140,000, so their services will be available to students even during the summer.
Additional staffing recommended to implement COVID-19 prevention and mitigation strategies include:
- Part-time custodians for three more years for nearly $635,000.
- Two cafeteria monitors at each elementary and middle school for two additional years, at a cost of about $133,000.
- Health clinic assistants will be upgraded to full time and will continue their employment for three years for nearly $521,000.
Onley said that since Aug. 17, only two stakeholders had submitted new suggestions for using the federal funds. A teacher had requested repair or replacement of school tennis courts at an estimated cost of $50,000. A school nurse asked for shaded areas on Accomack school playgrounds.
The expenditures Onley proposed Aug. 24, for additional staffing needs, supplies, equipment, and HVAC system upgrades, totaled more than $16 million – well above the $13.3 million available from the American Rescue Plan fund.
She also reviewed expenses that could be cut, such as playground equipment and extra video cameras for school buses.
The school board’s approval of the spending recommendations came just in time for the funding application deadline of Sept. 1.