Hamden schools to boost summer programming with federal help, but budget ‘meager’
HAMDEN – The school district plans to use federal relief funds to expand its summer programs to address the learning gap and socio-emotional losses caused by the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the schools’ annual operating budget received a boost from the Legislative Council, and officials were grateful – but they also cautioned that the budget only maintains, rather than increases, the regular programming of schools. schools.
Because the federal grant money is temporary funding, the district is limited in how it can use it for fear of hitting a “fiscal cliff” down the line, Walter Morton IV said. Chairman of the Finance Committee of the Education Council.
If the district used the money to hire new teachers, for example, it would have to find a new source of funding or make cuts when the money runs out.
Hamden’s solution to this dilemma? Part of this is making long-term, one-time investments in HVAC technology and systems, according to Tom Ariola, the district’s chief operating officer, who noted that the plan is not yet finalized.
The other part is to strengthen the summer programs of Hamden public schools, which will be offered free of charge to students.
The district is currently budgeting $ 4.4 million that it received from the CARES Act, according to Ariola.
In addition, the American rescue plan It is estimated that this will bring in some $ 10.8 million to schools in Hamden, although Ariola said the number was not yet final.
This summer, the district plans to offer free meals to all students, according to Ariola, who predicted that they would total about 60,000 meals, up from about 8,000 last year.
The district will also ensure that students receive free transportation to summer programs, according to Schools Superintendent Jody Goeler.
He said the district is looking to remove any constraints families may face when it comes to attending the summer program.
“I think it’s a good investment, to make sure that when we start the school year in the fall, it’s the kids who are ready to come back,” Goeler said. “I don’t see any other way to do this right than to give our kids a summer like this. … This is the first time in 40 years that I have had the opportunity to provide this level of funding and support to students.
The so-called “summer schools” – academic intervention programs – are just the beginning of what Hamden will offer.
Thanks to a partnership with Just at school, an after-school enrichment organization, five of Hamden’s elementary schools will also run full-day programs, according to Goeler. Albertus Magnus College has also partnered with the district to offer three one-week sessions in science, technology, engineering, arts and math, he said.
In addition, Hamden’s athletic director is organizing a new ‘program that will motivate our student athletes to engage socially with each other, but also to provide intervention support so … that they qualify to play. and they’re ready to play when we start this fall ”. Goeler said, adding that the high school will also offer a music camp.
The goal is to have a wide range of programs to combat learning loss and provide socio-emotional enrichment, continued the superintendent.
He called it “Operation Joy and Commitment”.
“We really have to be there for our children… (to) bring joy back into their lives,” Goeler said.
Meanwhile, the Legislative Council has given the district a little boost to its operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
The Education Council sent the mayor a budget with a proposed increase of about $ 3.4 million from last year, according to the district. website.
The mayor approved just under half of that increase, Ariola said, and when the budget went to council on Saturday, the district received an additional $ 500,000.
That puts the operating budget, which is yet to be finalized, at around $ 2 million more than last year, according to Ariola, who said $ 1.5 million represented contractual salary increases and that $ 500,000 would go towards a planned increase in the costs of special education.
The $ 1.4 million the district did not receive is the remainder of that projection, Ariola said, adding that Hamden will likely use federal aid to cover the shortfall.
Morton, the chairman of the finance committee, said the current budget was “lean”, describing it as “a maintenance budget”.
Last year, Hamden schools received no budget increases.
“We were able, frankly, to kind of hide the impact of those decisions, if you will, because it was COVID,” he said. “This budget did not seek to restore a lot of things that we took away from the year we got fixed funding.”
But Morton also expressed gratitude for the increase, saying he felt “more heard” this budget season.