2022 School Board Candidate Q&A: ESSER Funds

Lowell’s First Look met individually with all 8 candidates running for a position on the School Board for Lowell Area Schools, and who will appear on the ballot on Tuesday, November 8, 2022.  There are three seats up for election by voters. In addition to our interview, we sent each candidate the same set of questions. In the weeks leading up to the election, we will bring you responses to the questions we asked in addition to a candidate profile. Answers are published verbatim and have not been edited. We asked candidates to keep their responses to around 200 words.

A number of positions and programs were created using the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER Funds). Would you like to see these continue after the ESSER funding runs out, and if so, how would you fund them?

Jared Blough
A few of the programs on the application for approval had vague descriptions so with out knowing what they actually do or how they will help all the students, I can’t promote them. All industries have turned to a do more with less mentality and schools are no different. There were several positions on the application turned in for approval, and I hope most or all get approved, the educators need all the help they can get. Once the Federal relief money runs out we will have to seek federal grants, to alleviate burdening the taxpayers.

Jessica Curtis
I would need to carefully examine and assess the benefits to our students and staff before I can give an honest answer on whether or not I feel we should continue the programs and positions. Some of the funds are building support systems for learning loss and hopefully we can continue to model the systems across the board if the data shows they were favorable for our students. Finding funding in our budget to cover the programs and positions may be available by applying for grants. 

Jennifer Dougherty
Some of the programs and positions using ESSER funds were created to deal with COVID related issues, while others were created to enhance traditional and special education. When the ESSER funding is no longer available, it will be important to evaluate these programs and positions to see if they are still needed. Programs that are still needed should be analyzed with a cost to benefit analysis to determine which are the highest priority to fund. It may be necessary to reduce or eliminate other programs which have a higher cost or lower benefit to make up for the reduced funding.

Chris German
ESSER gave LAS a great opportunity to try out some new programs and create some new positions.  I think we need to look at and access which programs benefited our kids the most and what positions we can determine as essential moving forward.  Once that assessment is given we can better see what we want to keep and then decide where they fit into our current budget.  I haven’t taken a deep enough dive into our budgets to give a knowledgable enough answer as to how we would fund them.

Kyle Hoff
The Summer of 2022 saw record enrollment in summer school, which has helped close the gap on a lot of academic struggles for many students, but we still have a lot of work to do in this area to get these kids back up to where they should be academically. The summer school program was funded through the ESSER Relief Fund, specifically earmarked for schools to address Covid learning gaps. It helped pay for the additional teachers needed to teach the summer school classes and has been a good use of this money. Moving forward, we need to continue to look for ways to fund these types of efforts and do everything possible to ensure we keep schools open so that students don’t miss significant learning time. I view this as a critical need and would look at either diverting funds from elsewhere or tapping into the district’s $6.5M budget surplus to help pay for this, should the ESSER Funds not be available in the future. 

Parker Liu
The funds that were provided to the district through the CARES Act and ESSER fund were to be used to create and enhance programs that support the education of our students. These funds were used to help create depth in the district’s ability to provide interventions for students when necessary. It also helped to provide additional training for staff covering a wide variety of topics While I hope that the source of these funds is renewed in some way in the future, I realize that this will probably not be the reality. LAS has utilized these funds in a variety of ways that have different levels of impact on our students. Moving forward, I want the district administration to evaluate the impact and effectiveness of various programs. Furthermore, I think the district should look for ways to either rearrange funding or seek additional grants to keep programs that have been highly effective. As a member of the BOE, I would want to ensure that the entire budget is serving the needs of our students with the ultimate goal of providing the best education possible. I am a strong proponent of creating equity in our schools, so funds may need to be rearranged to ensure we continue to provide the best support possible where it is needed. I am open to creative solutions in terms of funding and listening to which plans would serve LAS the best in the future.

Pat Nugent
Lowell Schools has been able to fund new positions and initiate pilot programs using ESSER funds and other state and federal monies over the past two years. Some of the positions are directly related to learning loss and the disruption caused by the pandemic. Hopefully, these positions will not be needed for the long term. Other positions to support students with learning needs and mental health or behavioral issues provide the school with tools to alleviate deficiencies that were identified pre-pandemic, but the District was unable to find the means to address them. The new strategies being employed by these grant-funded employees are research-based methods to help all students have the opportunity to be successful. If it is found that these strategies and positions are beneficial and producing positive results in Lowell, then we should continue to find ways to fund them, even after the grants run out. Future funds could come from repurposing other parts of the existing budget, seeking new grants (such as through the Community Fund), and/or by lobbying the state to fund them in future state budgets.

Calvin Vander Boon (Note: Calvin Vander Boon’s name will appear on the November ballot, but he has notified us that he is withdrawing his candidacy for the LAS school board.)
There are many examples of special funding sources (like ESSER Funds) that are “use it or lose it” type funds that have a special purpose. Schools are tasked with finding ways to spend these funds within the stated limits. ESSER funds in LAS have been used to fund a large number of budget line items. With ESSER funds no longer being a revenue source moving forward, these budget line items (as well as all LAS expenditures) need to be examined and the cost weighed against the benefit. All fiscal decisions will be to spend funds on high priority items, create a reasonable surplus and then examine which additional line items can be funded with the remaining balance.

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