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FUSD shifting staff positions as ESSER funding ends

The Flagstaff Unified School District (FUSD) expects to finish the final spending of the federal COVID-19 Relief Fund by September and is now planning to adjust its paid position in schools.

The school district has received three ESSER (Emergency Assistance for Elementary and Middle School) funds totaling $21.37 million since 2020 to help with the pandemic response. The final $13.7 million allocation is part of ESSER III and will pass the American Rescue Plan in March 2021 and will be available for funding through September 2024.

At FUSD’s February 28 Board of Directors meeting, Superintendent Michael Penca announced that the school district will contribute 1.3 million of these funds to staff positions that support students and employees, including counselors, academic aides and nurses. You said you are using dollars. He also said the FUSD will use up all his ESSER funds by September 2023.

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Now that ESSER funding is coming to an end, school districts may seek alternative funding for some of these positions while terminating or modifying other positions to meet staffing needs from existing budgets. I am looking into the source.

“We are trying to keep as many positions as possible, but we are also considering all other dynamics, such as the expected decline in enrollment, as well as the loss of funds,” said Penca. .

He also cited state budget uncertainty, rising costs, and the board’s desire to improve FUSD’s financial health as factors in these decisions.

“We’re trying to balance all of that while making decisions about our needs, the needs of our students, and trying to keep as many positions as possible,” he said.

The Penca report discussed eight positions, most of which were planned to be switched to district maintenance and management (M&O) budgets.

The school district’s Native American Education Assistance Program will be affected by this change, but it will be a shift in service areas rather than a reduction in headcount.

ESSER was funding the transition of positions to certified staff rather than basic level classified staff.

“There was a high turnover rate and no impact on students,” says Penca. “With ESSER funding, we hired certified staff. They provided reading and math and interventions, and families have had a lot of success in filling those gaps.”

No program staff reductions are planned, but FUSD plans to redeploy program staff to focus more on early intervention.

The district plans to continue qualified staff at preferred elementary schools while funding auxiliary positions split between Flagstaff High School and Coconino High School for a total of $66,664 in the M&O budget.

Penka said the shift was recommended by the department’s director.

“I recommend prioritizing early intervention so that learning gaps, social-feeling gaps and family ties can be closed when students are young,” he said. “Before they get old and that gap grows, or before our students leave our school system early because our system has somehow failed them.” .”

The schools prioritized for these changes are those with the highest percentage of Native American students and those designated by the state for improvement based on goal support and achievement test results. The agenda specifically lists primary schools in Leupp and Puente de Hózhó as priority schools.

Eight people, including family members, employees and other community members from the district, attended a meeting to make public comments on changes to the program after hearing that the high school advisory position would be discontinued.

Most called for transparency on the decision and for the continuation of the position.

Samira Old Elk, a sophomore at Coconino High School, said, “Having such representation in our community and college schooling is very important to me and my other Native American classmates.” ..without high school and other school advisors…we lose a key advocate who enables us to advance the awareness and sensitivity of many of our students here in Flagstaff..they have contributed so much and It really helps us move forward…through high school.”

“Our community has struggled to send students where graduation rates and grades are more consistent,” Rose Toehe said in a comment. “It is because of these advisors that this long and arduous journey has been accomplished. If our schools, especially secondary schools, are left without advisors, these achievements will begin to decline again.”

Penca’s presentation took place late in the meeting, and he said the comments were based on a misunderstanding.

“We are prioritizing staffing, but we are not cutting headcount,” he said.

ESSER also funded 3.5 full-time counseling and social work positions within the school district ($266,373).

“It was a pre-pandemic discussion about our district’s counselor-to-student ratio, our students’ social-emotional and mental health needs, our students’ behavioral needs,” he said. “Having more counselors in this district has been a priority for our district.”

The district’s current plan is to move 2.5 full-time employees into the district’s M&O budget and fund an additional full-time social worker as part of a school safety grant applied through the Arizona Department of Education. That’s it. If this is not approved, FUSD will instead move a total of four full-time positions into her M&O budget.

The district used some ESSER funds last year to begin restoration practices at several schools. Utilizing a grant from the Coconino County Superintendent of Education, she plans to continue her position as Restoration Practice Coordinator for the 2024 academic year beginning in 2023.

Half of the two technology positions, totaling $67,031, were funded through ESSER to help school districts transition to distance learning. This will continue through school district funds to continue supporting the use of technology in schools.

“There’s no going back, and I don’t want to,” Penka said. “We aspire to be a one-to-one district. We believe we can set ourselves up for success.”

Two full-time preschool parapros ($56,849) also move into the M&O budget. The state’s funds at risk are set to increase next year, and Penka said one of his goals is to expand the preschool program, so he hopes the district will use them to maintain those positions. said he was planning to

ESSER also allowed school districts to fund tutors for reading intervention work (10 full-time employees, or $348,806) in all elementary schools. This will continue through M&O funding.

“If we need to change some of the above, we may have to consider reducing our working hours, and we may need to reduce benefits for staff holding these positions.” said Penka. We believe it will go a long way in closing the achievement gap and helping all students in the district achieve the scores they want. ”

Another two tutors funded by ESSER ($43,824) are using an online program called Plato to work with high school students on credit recovery. These positions will be retired and one employee still in this position (she left one earlier this year) will be transferred to another position in her FUSD.

FUSD plans to return to pre-pandemic school nurse staffing levels, moving one position to part-time ($55,836) and sharing nursing staff across two schools to create a full-time position. is decremented by one. This priority is based on the health needs of students at each school, he said.

He said school districts are having trouble finding nurses to work in schools due to retirements, retirements and medical shortages. .

A recording of this meeting can be found at: of ESSER funded positions will begin approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes after the meeting.

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