A spot for ‘every penny:’ Shelton city, school plan for $16.8M in federal relief funds

Exterior view of the Board of Education offices in Shelton, Conn. Nov. 5, 2020.

Exterior view of the Board of Education offices in Shelton, Conn. Nov. 5, 2020.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

SHELTON — The city is in the middle of deciding what to do with a one-time windfall of federal relief funds heading its way as part of the recently approved $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.

Shelton’s government is in line for $16.8 million overall, nearly $4.9 million earmarked specifically for education.

According to data released from Congressman Jim Himes’ office, the city is receiving $4 million in federal relief funds and an additional $7.86 million due, in part, because Connecticut has no county government. The Plan has allocated money for county governments to the individual states. Connecticut is passing it on to local municipalities.

City Finance Director Paul Hiller said there are several restrictions, particularly on the city money. He said the good news is the city has until Dec. 31, 2024, to spend the money.

While receiving no formal details on money use yet, Hiller said he understands the funds can be used for such infrastructure as broadband and water or sewer repairs and upgrades.

“We are in the very early stages of discussion as to how and where to spend these funds,” Hiller said, adding that the money “cannot be used for normal budgetary expenses.”

The school portion of the federal funds will go to Chromebooks, educational software and building air quality equipment repairs, educators said, which will amount to nearly $2 million of the funding heading to Shelton.

The Connecticut State Department of Education is passing on $492.4 million in a second phase of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief grant funds it is receiving.

Shelton’s share is $1,815,928, and Superintendent Ken Saranich at the Board of Education Finance Committee meeting Wednesday said the district has plans for “every penny.”

“This is very positive news for the district,” Saranich said.

The school board Finance Committee received a list of all proposed items; the full board is scheduled to vote on the recommendations at its regular meeting March 24.

The funding is designed to allow districts to enhance school safety, prevent learning loss and address the pandemic's mental health impact on students. That includes using it for computers or building projects that would qualify under the federal relief funding.

In all, Saranich said, $325,040 will be used to cover educational costs. The purchases include $40,000 for a summer school intervention program, which will provide remedial services this summer for identified students, and $138,250 for a three-year license to use Lexia software.

The district also plans to purchase Great Minds Eureka Math for grades K-6 for $146,790. Saranich said the program is standardized math curriculum, including assessment materials.

The district plans to spend $1,040,007 of the funds to purchase 800 Chromebooks for $323,200; 435 Chromebook carts for $175,740; and 450 laptops for staff at $452,565. The three purchases allow the district to remove some $1.1 million from the technology capital plan that would have needed to be covered by the city.

The district also has $450,881 of proposed facilities costs, which would reduce the short- and long-term facilities capital plan, also covered by the city, by $57,000.

The ESSER II grant has restrictions. It can only be used for improving COVID-19 response coordination between school districts and state, county and local public health authorities; addressing learning loss through assessment, tracking student attendance and engagement in distance learning, and evaluating academic progress in comparison to a student's pre-pandemic performance;

It can be used for need-based outreach for students including children in low-income households, those in foster care, those with disabilities and those struggling with homelessness; purchasing PPE and sanitation supplies and training staff in proper sanitation and personal protection practices; planning and putting in place supplemental instruction like summer camp or aftercare and school facility indoor air quality improvements and repairs.

As part of the capital improvements, District Facilities Director John Calhoun, at the board’s Building, Grounds and Transportation Ad Hoc Committee meeting Wednesday, presented a list of 17 proposed capital improvements totaling $768,873.

Those projects include replacing the main office rooftop A/C unit at Long Hill School at a cost of $45,000; reconfiguring the fuel cell and boiler replacement at Shelton High, which will cost $110,000; and repairs to rooftop air quality units at both the intermediate and high schools that come with a $102,000 price tag.

Calhoun said that nine projects - totaling more than $165,000 - can be covered by a Board of Aldermen bond account allocation done last year.

Among the projects under this allocation are replacement of fire alarm panels at Elizabeth Shelton and Shelton Intermediate schools for a $47,000 cost; hand dryer installations at Perry Hill School and the intermediate and high schools at a cost of $30,441; parking lot lighting repairs at the high school, costing $13,375; and the man trap entry project at Booth Hill School, a $35,100 expense.

Calhoun said $152,301 from the BOE COVID reserve fund will cover purchase of a replacement work vehicle at $36,000, summer cleaning supplies at $39,301 and additional cleaning supplies for the present fiscal year, at a cost of $77,000.