Area schools recently received an injection of federal funds to help battle the spread of the coronavirus when they open classes next month.
The influx of thousands of dollars – part of $100 million statewide - will help Butler and southern Warren County schools cover the unanticipated costs of trying to operate schools during the global pandemic.
In Butler County, Lakota Schools, which has the largest enrollment of any southwest Ohio suburban school system, received the largest amount of $795,414 in federal CARES Act funding.
“Lakota appreciates the additional funding,” said Treasurer Jenni Logan. “We continue to allocate resources to our plan(s) for the needs of our students and staff in the upcoming 2020-21 school year. It is a challenging time for all of us and our total budget is being maximized to support this unpredictable next year.”
Receiving the next-highest amounts were Hamilton Schools at $532,259 and Fairfield Schools at $511,032.
In southern Warren County Mason Schools – the largest district in the county - received $534,482, and Kings Schools got $232,387.
Ohio Department of Education officials said the money can be used for “expenditures incurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic” from March 1 through the end of 2020. The Ohio Office of Budget and Management cited specific options like protective equipment, cleaning and sanitation, and technology to support remote learning.
The school aid is allocated primarily based on number of students enrolled in a school or district, with some additional funding to support school transportation obligations, students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged students.
The money comes after Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine last week announced a bipartisan agreement with legislative leaders on the funding breakdown.
Many local school districts saved small amounts of money this spring on bus fuel, spring sports and a few other categories, but increased spending on computers, wireless hotspots and other unexpected needs during remote learning.
Randy Betram, treasurer of Middletown Schools, which received $394,459, said the district is grateful for the funds but also concerned by the digital gap for districts like his that have a higher percentage of low income families who need learning laptops and internet access for remote learning.
“Ohio continues to hesitate to address the equity gaps students face every single day. Resource equity is a glaring systemic issue in Ohio for students of poverty,” said Betram.
“Although we are grateful for the additional state funds to which we are using to buy necessary PPE, devices and wireless access, we hope that the state no longer cuts our funding and can address the systemic poverty issues we deal with every day, and especially in these times of a pandemic,” he said.
Edward Theroux, superintendent of Talawanda Schools, also expressed gratitude but said unexpected expenses are still coming as his district prepares to operating under the coronavirus threat.
“I want to thank all who have worked hard on this and are providing us with some additional funding,” but Theroux added, “it is not enough.”
“Our costs due to the COVID19 pandemic exceed the money provided by our state and federal government,” said Theroux, whose district received $176,245.
“Talawanda Schools - like all other school districts - are dipping into their general funds to make our students and staff safe when they return. We are being creative such as working with community partners, streamlining our budgets, applying for grants, purchasing items in large quantities with other districts, and eliminating whatever we can to maximize our ability to make our buildings safe,” he said.
“While we have made plans and continue to adjust these plans, there will be unknowns that will be needed and will impact our budgets,” said Theroux.