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How Salem Kaiser Used Covid Relief Funds: Staff, Technology, Community Partnerships

Over the past two years, Salem schools have prioritized federal Covid relief funds, hired more personnel to support students, and found creative ways to keep students on track.

While much of the $151 million the school district can claim is still waiting to be spent and is about to expire, school district officials are working to keep employees and help children catch up. He said he plans to use the rest.

Salem Kaiser Public Schools is claiming $57 million in these Covid relief funds to help support new staff, technology and students within the larger community, according to a new state data dashboard.

“The bottom line is that without these resources, we would not have been able to achieve the results of the past two years.

With $94 million still left for the district to claim, district leaders are looking forward to ways to strategically use the remaining money before it expires in two years.

Reduction of class size and staff

In response to the pandemic, lawmakers allocated funds for Covid relief to schools across the United States in three packages. These are collectively known as the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.

The Oregon Department of Education has received $1.6 billion for schools through three distributions. According to the ODE website, school districts can claim funds through her 2024-25 school year, with each school district having its own funding allocation based on federal requirements.

The state released an interactive dashboard in late August. It shows the amount allocated to each district and billed to date, along with the major categories of spending.

For Salem-Keizer, the main items that have spent $57 million to date include support for new teachers and other employees, technology such as computers and online learning programs for students, and other operations. Includes above needs.

Last year, the district set aside approximately $17.7 million in employee retention bonuses in response to concerns about teacher burnout and increased workload.

These relief funds are supporting 100 new full-time equivalent jobs across the district, West said. However, this means that in practice he will be funded for over 100 employees, as one full-time position may be split into multiple part-time employment. increase.

“Over the past 12 months, our focus has been on making sure these funds are used to address unfinished learning,” she said. “We know that distance learning was not the optimal environment for many students.

To help with this, the district added additional teachers to elementary schools to keep class sizes small, and nurses and school-based health assistants to help with COVID-19 testing and vaccination needs. and system-wide add PE teachers and high school-level mentors to help students graduate on time and stay on track.

West said much of the high technology and other operational costs stemmed from the needs of the early days of the pandemic. Almost every student in the district had a laptop at the time of the pandemic, but when distance learning became inevitable, the initiative needed to be accelerated.

The school district used the funds to purchase Chromebooks as needed, as well as online learning software and programs such as Canvas and Seesaw. According to West, these will continue to be used in some form.

Salem Kaiser will also use these relief funds to purchase necessary supplies such as hand sanitizer, HVAC system filters, masks, and other supplies to meet the safety measures required to return to school. did.

A new way to engage students

The funding has also opened the door for the district to build stronger community partnerships and support students outside of normal school settings and school hours, West said.

“We have always had very good community partners in the Salem-Keizer area,” says West. “One of the things we have learned through Covid is that schools are limited in what they can do. When we were cut off from direct contact, we quickly realized the need to get involved: people in the community who were still directly involved with the children.

As such, the district has used a portion of its Covid relief funds to support community organizations such as the Clock Center. The district’s latest funding plan has set aside approximately $500,000 to support these organizations.

While many students could benefit from neighborhood ‘learning pods’ or small groups where they could work together during online classes, some didn’t get the same opportunities. , the district worked with the Kroc Center to create a unique learning pod environment for students.

This continues today through the Clock Center’s REBOUND program, which provides a safe community space for high school students to drop by after school, receive tutoring, help with school work, or become a member of the center.

“We want to be that third place for kids,” said Rick Mazzarani, spokesman for the Clock Center. What’s the third place that’s not? A place where they can shoot hoops. A place where they can come together and be themselves in a healthy environment.”

Currently, the program can only accommodate 150 students, but students with other memberships will continue to have access to the REBOUND room and tutoring services. Center staff are exploring ways to utilize this funding and expand to provide access to all Salem Her Kaiser students in the future.

“We really tried to think creatively in terms of how we could take advantage of the support that the community could provide to our students,” West said.

This funding also extends to providing after-school opportunities for students. Districts are currently using relief funds to support Boys and Girls Clubs, The Clock Center and its Early Learning Hub, Community Learning Institute, YMCA and United Way.

The district also used the funds to hire employees to go out into the community and connect with students at home. West said the impact of hiring these new staff members in particular was “tremendous.”

“We can[knock on doors]and bring in new staff who can move around the district and ensure that students have the resources they need to access education during remote learning. she said. “ESSER funded all of that.”

future use

The district still has about $94 million in Covid relief funds available for use over the next few years, according to the state’s dashboard.

The district has budgeted approximately $35 million for the remaining funds over the next two years to maintain and continue current strategies and initiatives to support students, and will spend the remaining funds by September 2024. Mostly.

It will likely take several years to consider all the costs associated with keeping all recruits on regular budgets after relief funds run out, and West says the plan will include those costs in staffing. It will be absorbed into the regular budget through cutbacks. Other staff over time.

“There is some impact on our system. We don’t want to minimize it,” she said.

This could mean fewer employees for certain functions, such as high school mentoring, in which case districts would find new ways to support students at that level.

“We don’t want to lose the people we hire,” said West. “Thinking about it that way, we are making sure that the good people who are currently working for us are close to the students we need.”

Districts also need to be strategic about the timing of funds. They can use that money for building upgrades and other necessary capital costs.

“One of the things we are talking about right now is evaluating all of our HVAC systems. Can you?” said West.

However, such a project with supply chain issues and the process of hiring contractors can currently take about 18 months to complete. is a tight timeline.

“So there’s been a bit of tension between districts. There are a lot of things we would like to do, but probably can’t do given the restrictions and supply chains we have right now,” West said.

Contact reporter Jordyn Brown [email protected].

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