Getting Answers: Springfield Public Schools federal COVID-19 funding

Despite an influx of more than $2.5 billion dollars in coronavirus funds, many Massachusetts school districts have been slow to put that money to work.
Published: Sep. 13, 2022 at 10:04 AM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - Despite an influx of more than $2.5 billion dollars in coronavirus funds, many Massachusetts school districts have been slow to put that money to work. That includes Springfield Public Schools, which has only spent a fraction of their funding.

“We have plans in place to spend all the money, but we had to put plans in place. Some things we’re doing, like some renovations to certain schools. It takes time,” said Springfield Public Schools Supt. Daniel Warwick.

Three rounds of pandemic relief funding sent $2.5 billion to Massachusetts school districts, including a total of approximately $244 million to Springfield Public Schools, the state’s second largest school district. Of that, the district has only spent about $48 million, less than 20 percent. Some advocates said schools need to step up the pace to meet students’ needs as quickly as possible.

“The districts are so not accustomed to having this level of funding, that it’s almost a state of paralysis in terms of what to do,” said Mary Tamer, state director for Democrats for Education Reform.

Tamer told Western Mass News students who have fallen behind are in dire need of intensive tutoring and mental health support.

“We want to make sure that all of the students are being given what they need at a time when we have the resources to provide for those needs and we want to make sure the districts are following through on that,” Tamer added.

Warwick said there are programs in place for students who have fallen behind.

“There’s going to be extended day and extended learning time opportunities during this school year and summer school program,” Warwick noted.

He said plans are in place to spend all the money in the next few years, but did not give an exact timeline.

“The whole idea is to spend it over time, not to have spent it during the first year, but we were a little slower because we had so much support from our mayor on the city side,” Warwick explained.

He said recovery funds the district received from the city early on in the pandemic covered masks, testing materials, and new ventilation systems for schools, leaving more education relief funds to be used on facility upgrades and programs to combat pandemic learning loss.

“I think that everybody understood that part of the loss of learning and the challenges that we’re facing under COVID would not be resolved in sort of a year or two,” added Tom Scott, president of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.

Scott said closing the pandemic learning gap will be a multi-year process.

“Given the labor shortage of teachers and staff, we wouldn’t even be able to develop a program in that short of a time and have it be effective, so it would be a fool’s errand just try to spend that money quickly,” Scott noted.

He said districts don’t want to be left scrambling in two years to find funding for positions and programs created with one-time funding. Tamer agreed that districts need to be careful about how they spend the money.

“This is not permanent funding. It is going to go away and so they have to use it right now in this moment to address the needs that we’ve all seen as a result of the pandemic,” Tamer noted.

Warwick said pandemic related supply and labor shortages are also slowing down renovation plans at some schools, including updating the HVAC systems.