Public Forums Highlight Use of Federal School Relief Funds

School officials are looking for a final round of input on how it plans to spend nearly $21 million in federal Covid-19 relief funds through the fall of 2024.

Over the past week, administrators have held several public forums on the proposed use of the ESSER (Emergency and Secondary School Relief) III funds.

During an online forum last Thursday evening, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Almi Abeyta and Finance Director Monica Lamboy also outlined how the schools have put two earlier rounds of ESSER funding to use.

“The CARES Act ESSER I funds were available in the Spring of 2020 when we had just closed and there were substantial concerns about budget cuts,” said Lamboy. 

Much of that funding was used to help pivot learning to a remote model in Chelsea.

The $9.235 million in ESSER II funds are currently being used and a big chunk is being used to fund new positions in the schools.

“There were a wide spectrum of positions added, and they were added very quickly,” said Lamboy. In total, 67.25 positions were funded with the relief funds.

While some of the anticipated ESSER III funds will be used to continue to fund those new positions that were added, there’s a wider range of programming that school officials plan to fund with the federal aid.

The biggest chunk of the ESSER III funds fall under the heading of mitigating learning loss and accelerating learning, at a total of $13.05 million. Of that, $8.1 million is earmarked to continue funding the positions added with ESSER II money through September of 2024, $1 million is for new curriculum materials for math and reading, and nearly $4 million are for relocation costs to move the Chelsea Learning Academy out of the high school.

Lamboy said moving the Chelsea Learning Academy, which is for the students in the district most at risk, will improve opportunities for those students and open up more learning space at the high school.

Just under a half million dollars are dedicated to Covid preparedness and response. In addition to continuing funding nurses, nurse aides, and the Covid manager hired under the last round of aid, there is money for temporary nursing services and covid testing and temporary cleaning services.

“We want to continue all the health services available to us that we have added,” said Lamboy.

Several major projects are being proposed with $6.4 million to design and construct new HVAC systems at the Early Learning Center, Mary C. Burke Elementary complex, and Chelsea High School. While all the city schools are currently up to CDC and Harvard University standards for air quality, Lamboy noted that the district needs to realize that some of the buildings are a quarter of a century old and the systems need to be addressed.

Student mental health services are being addressed by continuing to fund social workers and counselors that were recently hired, and by setting aside $150,000 for outside counseling services for students. Nearly $700,000 is being set aside to continue and expand upon afterschool and summer school programs, and $375,000 is earmarked for technology upgrades in the schools.

At a recent meeting with school staff, Abeyta said several people commented that they were grateful that the new positions funded under ESSER II will continue to be funded at least through 2024. She added that the one area where there were comments that more money might be needed was for mental health services for students.

Lamboy said she’s gotten positive feedback at some forums about the investments in the HVAC systems.

“The HVAC systems are now front and center for our staff and parents, so having the opportunity to invest in new systems is wonderful,” she said.

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