Stimulus funds expected to help with pandemic-related costs for East End districts

An influx of stimulus funding is expected to begin flowing to local schools under the American Rescue Plan signed by President Joe Biden last month.

The $1.9 trillion stimulus package included aid to local governments and direct checks to most Americans. It also included $120 billion in funding for education, with Long Island schools slated to receive nearly $324 million in rescue aid, according to figures released by Sen. Charles Schumer’s office.

While details on the parameters of those funds, which would largely be allocated based on the number of students living below the poverty line, are still emerging, local superintendents embraced the idea of additional funding. Schools will also receive increased federal aid from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, according to state aid projections.

By the numbers

Here are estimates of what local school districts would receive under the American Rescue Plan, according to aid projections published by New York State:

Shoreham-Wading River $575,159

Riverhead $12,787,969

Mattituck $328,116

Southold $1,181,651

Greenport $749,361

In an interview Monday, Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Gerard Poole said the rescue plan was great news. “We spent a lot of money to open schools this year and there’s going to be a continual expense in light of the pandemic above and beyond what districts usually spend and budget for,” Mr. Poole said.

Shoreham-Wading River would receive approximately $575,159 as part of the plan.

After reviewing the federal legislation, Mr. Poole noted that one requirement is that 20% of the funding is used to make up for learning loss as a result of the pandemic, which disrupted in-person learning in 2020, though more students have been returning to hybrid and fully in-person learning this year.

He said the funding could help address academics, social-emotional learning and promote keeping schools open in a healthy, safe manner.

In Riverhead, where the school district is already facing challenges after two failed budget proposals last year, interim superintendent Christine Tona said the projected $12.8 million stimulus would be a “welcome source” of funding. “Providing our students with additional academic and social emotional support will be our top priority,” she said.

Riverhead Board of Education president Laurie Downs said she’s hoping the funds aren’t overly restrictive. “I want to make sure we can stretch it for a couple of years,” she said Tuesday.

Officials in other school districts agreed that the stimulus funds could offer some flexibility during precarious financial times.

“The decision was made to keep the tax levy as low as possible in light of the impact of the pandemic, while still being mindful of the needs of both our children and the taxpayer,” Mattituck-Cutchogue superintendent Jill Gierasch explained.

Ms. Gierasch also said officials will continue to monitor enrollment figures, which have been affected as families flocked to the North Fork, into early August. “This could potentially impact the need for additional teachers,” she explained, also noting that she hopes some repairs put on hold due to the pandemic can be addressed with the $328,116 in stimulus funds.

In Southold Town, Southold school district would receive the town’s largest share of the funds at over $1.2 million. Superintendent Dr. Anthony Mauro expressed cautious optimism after reviewing preliminary estimates Tuesday. 

He said he’s worried that federal aid is being used to supplant typical state funding the district will receive and that it won’t last forever.

“Stimulus packages are absolutely wonderful, but they are one-shot deals,” he said. “There will come a point where there’s going to be a shortfall.”

Greenport would receive just under $750,000, according to Mr. Schumer’s office. Greenport Board of Education president Daniel Creedon said Tuesday that the Board of Education will likely discuss the stimulus package during a meeting Wednesday evening as they continue working on the 2021-2022 budget.

“[The $750,000] we’re going to receive will play a part in that,” he said of the budget process.

In Southold, thousands of dollars were spent on personal protective equipment and things like plastic barriers in order to return most of the district’s 760 students to classrooms safely.

There are approximately 32 students who are fully remote at the secondary level and just 10 at the elementary level, Dr. Mauro said. Ten of the remote high school students intend to return to in-person classes this spring.

As districts await further state guidance on how the funding will be allocated, the administrators each said they feel hope as the end of the school year nears.

“It’s been a challenging, different year, but a great year,” Mr. Poole said. “Getting guidance from the state will be very helpful, but it’s great news. Schools need it.”