EDTECH: Given that these were one-time funds, how will your district sustain ESSER-funded programs?
Zachery-Ross: In 2018, voters passed a 10-year sinking fund, and we’re going to allocate some of that money to device refreshes.
Radcliffe: Knowing this funding wouldn’t be permanent, we spent time last year scaling back on what we purchased by having stakeholder groups decide what learning tools we still needed moving forward. So, we’ve already reduced the number of subscriptions for certain services.
The one-time influx of devices did throw off our replacement cycle, but we’re still planning to stagger our refresh. Some devices will need to be replaced after three years, while others can be pushed to five or even six years, depending on the device and how it is used.
Manahan: When we made our initial decisions about how to spend ESSER funds, we did get pushback from some teachers — and even from some administrators — who were disappointed that their project didn’t get funded. Having to say no up front wasn’t easy, but we didn’t want to fund projects and then take them away from people three years later. We knew we couldn’t live beyond our means and expect that to be sustainable.
After all of the one-time costs of setting it up, the preschool we established is now self-sustaining through user fees. We’re looking to sustain the online safety specialist through a state school safety grant, which is how districts help fund their school resource officers. We would possibly be the first district in the state to use those funds in this way.
I think there’s a public perception that schools got this influx of money that should solve all of our problems, but that’s just not the case. The funding was desperately needed, and it was enough for us to recover, but it's not going to sustain us moving forward. Districts will have to figure that out on their own.
RELATED: Schools share strategies for managing the coming funding cliff.
EDTECH: Are there any lessons from the COVID-19 era that you’ll carry with you into the future?
Bourgeois: We’ve learned a lot about what high-quality remote and hybrid instruction looks like, and we’re continuing that. This year, we had four teachers help us think about how we might keep virtual and hybrid learning going in certain high school classes that aren’t available in every school across our district. That initiative has done really well, and we’re tripling the number of those classes next year.
Radcliffe: We’re continuing to use virtual meetings. Before, parents sometimes had to miss half a day of work to come to a one-hour meeting, but now we’re pretty flexible about meeting on video. Similarly, if a student is sick, he or she can now keep up with schoolwork through our learning management system.
Manahan: We’ve learned that some students thrive in a virtual environment. And we’ve also learned that teachers and students — and the entire educational system — are resilient. Nothing about this has been easy, but we’re back. We’re learning together, and we’re continuing forward.