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WCSD staff explain federal grants received

At the Whitehall-Coplay School Board committee meetings on education/student activities, operations/transportation and finance/personnel, held Aug. 8, the education committee heard a presentation on federal grants by Tatiana Berrios, Whitehall-Coplay School District supervisor of educational equity, and Melissa Arifaj, curriculum supervisor of ELA and humanities.

WCSD receives Title I, II, III, IV and ESSER funding to support the needs of all students. The presentation was designed to inform the board and community of how the money is being spent and to receive input on where funding is needed.

The Title I grant for $1,176,405, which supports both WCSD and St. Elizabeth Regional School, has been used for reading supports for kindergarten through grade 5, including the creation of more opportunities for parent and family engagement.

One event Arifaj hopes to plan is called Reading Under the Lights, which has been held at other districts and is a reading-focused family event normally held on the football field at night. Funds are also being used on at-home literacy programs, such as Fundations resources and Fluency Tutor, the continuation of Reading Connection newsletters and the purchase of Book Buddy and supplies.

The Title II grant, in the amount of $163,495 for both WCSD and St. Elizabeth, is being used for class-size reduction staffing and professional development/mentors.

The Title III grant, of $62,243 for both WCSD and St. Elizabeth, is used for ESL supplemental staffing like paraeducators, resources, professional development and family engagement.

The Title IV grant, which is $73,635 for WCSD and St. Elizabeth, is used as a supplement to district initiatives for the purpose of creating a well-rounded education and includes a phonemic awareness program for kindergarten through second grade, enhancing early literacy outcomes and curriculum supplemental resources, specifically social studies. The grant is also being spent on Safe and Healthy Students, which will supplement district initiatives, such as a partnership with Communities in Schools. The Title IV grant will also be used for technology professional development.

ESSER II funds received by WCSD, which total $3,552,080 for March 13, 2020-Sept. 30, 2023, have been used to help prevent and respond to COVID-19 by using those funds for supplies, technology, planning and professional development. ESSER II was also used to ensure the continuity of existing operations by hiring staff or covering pandemic-related staffing costs; for mental health services and supports; addressing learning loss; school facility repairs and improvements; and inspecting, testing, repairing and other projects that help improve air quality in school buildings.

ESSER III, also known as the American Rescue Plan, provided WCSD with $7,179,721, for the time period of March 13, 2020-Sept. 30, 2024. The funds were used the same way as ESSER II funds, but 20% was set aside to address learning loss.

Also at the meeting, the board reviewed a new agreement for substitute nursing staff between Delta T Group Inc. and WCSD and the 2022-23 agreement between Maxim Healthcare Staffing Inc. and WCSD, which began July 18 and will continue Aug. 1-July 31, 2023.

Also discussed was an agreement for services between the Palace Center, Allentown, and WCSD for the Whitehall High School prom, to be held May 6, 2023. A minimum of 400 students need to attend. A deposit of $1,000 was paid to the Palace Center July 14, and full payment is due by May 6, 2023.

During the operations/transportation meeting, James Hanna, of D’Huy Engineering, presented change orders for the kindergarten through grade 1 elementary school project. According to Hanna, when the old district office was taken down, a sinkhole was discovered under the concrete slab. The plan had been to use an infiltration basin for stormwater, but due to the sinkhole, Hanna said an irrigation system had to be installed instead.

An electrician will now be needed to hook up the pumps for the irrigation system. Additional money needed for these change orders will come out of the construction budget that was already approved as part of the main budget in July.

Hanna also discussed power factor improvements needed for Steckel and Zephyr elementary schools and Whitehall-Coplay Middle School. Improvements have already been done at WHS.

Hanna noted there are challenges with introducing more electronics into a building. He noted adding more electronics changes the frequency of the way those devices use power, which may damage the electronics.

At WCMS, the electronic motors in new units already had to be replaced, and there have been issues at Steckel and Zephyr with the computer drivers, electronic cameras and modulating devices.

“As we start improving these buildings, it’s better we do these power factor improvements to correct the harmonic problems, so that anything new we put in, we’re protecting,” Hanna added.

WCSD Superintendent Dr. Robert Steckel said there is money set aside in the capital reserve for this project.

Also at the meeting, it was announced the WCSD-CLIU network support contract for 2022-23 will be put out for approval at the next board meeting.

The finance committee meeting had no new updates.