Dr. Lee Pritzl, CPP, Retired Superintendent, Educational Strategist
What a blessing ESSER II funding is for school districts as we enter a long season of financial recovery from COVID. Although this one-time grant money can be used in a more liberal way than previous funding, there are potential dangers lurking if districts focus on temporary and reactionary “fixes” rather than long-term, visionary solutions.
By now, most districts have enough face masks to stretch across the Grand Canyon and enough sanitizer to fill their pool. With the immediate needs met and paid for, some districts are choosing to invest in short-term staffing increases to serve as “remedial” instruction for students who have fallen behind as a result of school routine disruption. While remediation is likely necessary for many students, it begs the question of whether adding staff to bolster instruction will have long-term effects on overall student achievement. Perhaps the best use of additional staff is by utilizing your current staff’s talents to provide additional instruction outside the regular school day including evenings, weekends, and summer. The landmine to avoid is hiring new staff with ESSER II funds as these positions will end and not be sustainable. In other words, a district can be creating a political disaster without intending to do so simply because they did not think about the lasting effects. Think about it… District hires person “A” to help teach remedial math. ESSER money dries up and person “A” is no longer an employee. However, person “A” developed excellent relationships, support from parents and staff, and is related to several key community members. Now district leadership will feel pressure to figure out a way to maintain person “A” potentially compromising other areas of the budget and has stepped on the theoretical “landmine.”
What we are seeing from visionary-thinking districts are more long-term payback solutions using ESSER II funds. Rarely do districts have the political support to improve air quality by upgrading HVAC systems and equipment that is never seen by the taxpayers, but because of the pandemic, upgrading air quality and environmental safety has become “popular” and in most cases viewed as visionary leadership. Reactionary leadership to remediate the learning gaps that have developed is necessary, however, the visionary leader is thinking about 3, 6, 9 years from now. The visionary leader is investing in improving air quality to decrease student and staff absences and knows the research correlating high-quality physical learning environment and increased student achievement.