FRILLS CORNERS - With the North Clarion School District set to receive its third installment of the Elementary and Secondary School Recovery (ESSER) grant, North Clarion Superintendent Steve Young informed the district's board of directors spending the funds will not be a simple process.
"You have to be very careful (with the ESSER III funding)," Young said. "If you were to use (the ESSER III funding) to balance your budget for the next three years and not raise taxes during that time, you are going to reach a financial cliff the district won't be able to recover from."
The ESSER grants are part of the American Rescue Plan Act which is a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill approved in March. The American Rescue Plan Act is also referred to as the COVID-19 stimulus package.
Young said that the ESSER funds can be used to supplant local money already spent. Young said he had never seen federal funding able to be used for previous purchases.
North Clarion is scheduled to receive $1,811,376 in funds through the ESSER III grant.
The district is also looking for ways to spend the $883,623 in funding received from the ESSER II grant.
Young alerted the board the district had until 2023 to spend the ESSER II money while the district has until 2024 to spend the ESSER III funds.
Young said he had a number of items the district could spend the ESSER II grant on including new math books the district already purchased, paying for a social worker to be at the school part time, additional Chromebook computers, economics and geography text books, Promethean Interactive Display boards for each of the high school and elementary school classrooms, cleaning supplies, cyber school costs, afterschool tutoring support, a new van, library renovation project, personnel including additional substitute custodians.
According to Young, 20 percent of the ESSER III grant has to be put toward afterschool tutoring programs including personnel, transportation, materials, etc.
Board member James Shaftic asked Young if there would be a breakdown detailing what is being supplanted with the ESSER funding and what would be new purchases. Young said there would be a breakdown made available.
Young and the board also discussed hiring a full-time permanent custodian to work at the district from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The estimated yearly cost for the custodian is $62,000.
Young said he believes a full-time custodian would be a better option than having the part-time custodians
School Board President Scott Daum questioned whether the district could afford the additional custodian position without the ESSER funding. Board member Jeff Barron concurred with Daum saying the district would run into trouble if it is not careful.
Board member Lori Gatesman questioned whether the district needed an additional custodian if there was no COVID-19 pandemic. Young said the district had been short one custodian for a few years since a previous economic crunch forced the district to eliminate a custodian position.
Shaftic asked how many custodians were on duty at the elementary school on the daylight (7 a.m. to 3 p.m.) shift. Young informed Shaftic there were three custodians at the elementary with two of them being there full-time while the other splitting time between the high school and the elementary school. Young informed the board there are three custodians between the two buildings in the evenings as well.
Young believes the best plan for the district moving forward was to designate the ESSER funds after the district adopts and approves its 2021-22 budget.
There was also a discussion about renovating the elementary cafeteria/auditorium in order to accommodate housing more students for lunch. Young discussed taking out the stage so there would be more room for cafeteria tables. Due to the requirement of 6-feet of distance between students during lunch due to COVID-19 protocol has forced the district to add additional personnel to monitor the lunch period.
Young also alerted the board to a situation regarding the subdividing a classroom in the elementary school building to house three of the North Clarion special needs students who attend an Riverview Intermediate Unit classroom at A-C Valley.
According to Young, the A-C Valley Elementary school can no longer hold the class and those students would need to find somewhere else to attend classes. Young believes if the district would divide one of the sixth-grade classrooms into two rooms; it would be able to accommodate a pair of learning support classrooms.
In order to accomplish turning one classroom into two, the district would need to erect a wall to bisect a room as well as add an entryway for the newly constructed room. The district would also need to adjust the air flow in the rooms.
The walls the district wants to erect would be made from steel studs or another product which could easily be removed if the need arises.
The board questioned as to whether it was wise to be eliminating a classroom during the COVID-19 pandemic when space is at a premium but North Clarion Elementary Principal Keith Hastings said he believes moving the learning support into two smaller rooms would actually open up space in the elementary school.
"It is going to create more space for the elementary by not having two completely separate special education rooms that are taking up two full rooms by putting them into one room," Hastings said. "So it gains a classroom. We wouldn't lose a classroom by taking on the life skills students."
Young said the Pennsylvania Department of Education would need to inspect the room for approval.
According to Young, Amos Rudolph of Amos E. Rudolph Architecture was to develop plans for the renovation.