Akron Public Schools asks how it should spend pandemic relief funds

Akron Public Schools signage
Akron Public Schools sent out a survey to families and community partners asking for feedback on what pressing pandemic-related needs should be addressed. [Tim Dubravetz/ Ideastream Public Media]

Akron Public Schools is asking community members and partners for their input on how to best use the district’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds.

Surveys were sent to nonprofit groups, corporate partners and government agencies, many of whom work with Akron’s College and Career Academies, according to district spokesman Mark Williamson. The district also reached out to families of Akron students.

“They know their children and they see what's happened to their children. And they can give us direct feedback this way and say, ‘You know what I've noticed? I think that we should be doing this for our kids’ or something,” Williamson said. “There may be some idea out there now that we have the money to do this because public education in America has never been flush with money. And we’re being very cautious, though, because eventually, it will run out and we will be back where we were before. So, we have to make sure that these investments are sound.”

The request for input has already been fruitful, Williamson said. Within the first hour of posting the survey on the district website, 500 surveys were returned. 

Akron Schools received three rounds of COVID-related funding from the federal government since the start of the pandemic. Of the $145 million total, $27 million was spent dealing with the costs of remote learning last year.

“The 2020-21 school year was almost all virtual for us,” Akron Schools Chief Financial Officer Ryan Pendleton told Ideastream Public Media earlier this year. “So many of the expenses and the increased PPE, the delivery of food, the food preparation, the additional transportation we had as a result of that, a lot of those expenses in that first round of ESSER [Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief] dollars is going to that.” 

Contending with pandemic-related learning loss was another focal point for the district. Akron was “investing heavily in robust before- and after-school care, intensive tutoring, a larger scope of summer school,” according to Pendleton.

The school district used a small portion of the federal relief funding for a marketing campaign to encourage enrollment in kindergarten, particularly after the district experienced a drop in kindergarten enrollment last year, according to Williamson.  

“So, we put an investment into that, in the marketing, and it really worked,” he said, pointing to the 135 new kindergarteners added to the district rolls this year.

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