Board of Education very skeptical of potential federal aid from American Rescue Plan

Winchester Public Schools seal
Winchester Public Schools seal

WINSTED — At the Board of Education’s regular meeting on Tuesday, March 9, members of the board, along with Winchester Superintendent of Schools Melony Brady-Shanley, said that they are skeptical of potential federal aid that may come from the American Rescue Plan.
On Thursday, March 4, the school district received an email from Congressman John B. Larson (D-1) that said the district would tentatively receive aid from the American Rescue Plan.
The economic stimulus package, as proposed by President Joseph Biden, is a $1.9 trillion package developed to speed up the country’s economic recovery from the Covid pandemic.
The package also includes $1,400 stimulus checks to millions of low and middle-income Americans, a boost in unemployment benefits, and the creation of multiple programs to help bolster the economy.
In the letter, the estimated amount of aid from the plan for the school district was listed at $1,840,000.
However, at the meeting, Superintendent Brady-Shanley said that the district may receive an additional $300,000 from the plan.
At the meeting, both Brady-Shanley and board Chairman Doug Pfenninger expressed skepticism over the potential funds to the school district.
“We don’t know if it’s going to be real,” Pfenninger said. “Things can get lost in negotiations. We don’t know the limits on how we can use it. But Melony’s thought is that it would be nice if we can take that money and use it to cover any additional budget requests we have for the next five years. So, we can continue to not ask the town for any additional funds for some time. If we can have the latitude to do that, that reduces the taxpayer’s burden and gives us the ability to fund our programs in the ways we need to.”
“I would respectfully be concerned by that,” board member Nora Mocarski said. “The money should not be used for operations. Rather, it should be the one and dones.”
“I can’t see how we could spend $1.8 million in one fell swoop,” Pfenninger told Mocarski.
“Some of this could be used for catch up because some of the kids may have fallen behind during the pandemic,” Mocarski said. “Maybe summer tutoring, summer gap fill-ins, hiring staff to work with kids that have fallen behind. But if it starts to pay for operating budgets, it’s a one-time gift and we can’t be dependent on it.”
While the board discussed the potential uses of the possible extra funds, Superintendent Brady-Shanley continued to express her skepticism of getting federal aid from the American Rescue Plan.
“This is just a political back and forth right now,” Brady-Shanley said. “We’re getting into the time of political advocacy season, and certain individuals advocating for things that they are already in support of and bringing to the table. Part of this is an advocacy thing right now and is politically related. Until that number comes to me in some type of a whole number, with some type of strings and assignments to what it can and cannot be used for, to be honest for you I am not losing any sleep over that number right now because it’s not real money until it comes to fruition.”
The school district has proposed a budget of $20,558,504 for Fiscal 2021-2022, a proposed increase of $596,818, 2.99 percent, from the previous fiscal year.
Earlier in the meeting, Pfenninger discussed a meeting he and Superintendent Brady-Shanley had with Town Manager Robert Geiger over the proposed budget.
“[Geiger] was concerned that the budget would have to be defended to the Board of Selectmen and the town as well,” Pfenninger said. “I think he seemed more concerned about sending it to the town. I told him that we as a board knew that going in and asking for more money, which is sort of a first for us, is going to require some PR and some effort on our part. I just wanted to make the board know that it’s not a slam dunk that they’re going to approve the 2.6 percent increase.”

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