School workers have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic for several months now.
Although they’re not working in hospitals or working in classrooms, many of district’s least-recognized workers have been doing the most. This includes staff members that work in the kitchens and drive the bus routes — all too often, these staffers are a resource students and families count on to ensure they won’t go to sleep hungry.
A call from U.S. Reps. Steve Stivers (R-Upper Arlington) and Joyce Beatty (D-Columbus) held Thursday morning recognized these workers, including Tim Warren.
Warren, who has driven bus in the district for over 40 years and was previously elected as a township Trustee in York Township, spoke to the necessity of food delivery. Nelsonville-York, alongside dozens of other districts, has taken to using the bus routes to deliver breakfast, lunch and homework for students who do not have access to food or internet.
“I know this area well and I know the families that live here,” he said in the statewide press call. “Right now, they are hurting.”
He noted that “in the best of times,” Nelsonville boasts a poverty rate of about 35 percent.
“I’ve seen this with my own eyes,” he said.
He noted that teachers and administrators within the district have taken this time to ride his route with him, seeking to help hand out food and homework. He noted that many had “no idea” of the breadth of poverty within their own district. He noted that at this point, it’s hard to tell how much a lack of remote access has affected these students.
“That poverty impacts everything about how they are making it through this health emergency,” Warren explained. “About 1,200 students are fed (through Nelsonville-York) each year, and without these meals kids hungry and that’s just a fact.”
Close to 100,000 meals have been delivered in the two months schools have been closed. In Nelsonville, the school has partnered with the Southeast Ohio Food Bank to continue using the school’s busses and staffers to provide food once per week to these families over the summer.
Warren said that federal stimulus monies would help the school and community in many ways, and said he is counting on leaders like Stivers and Beatty to “have our backs.”
The purpose of the call, beyond to lift up the words of Warren and staffers like him, was to support Reps. Stivers and Beatty in their hope of securing a speedy Phase IV Stimulus Package. Three other packages have already been passed through Congress. This package is aimed at schools and both local and state governments.
“The next stimulus should put families and communities first by ensuring that public services, and the dedicated workers who provide them, are protected,” a joint statement from the representatives stated. “Until Congress and the president act, state and local tax bases will continue to crumble, and our everyday heroes will continue to be laid off.”
Statewide, Gov. Mike DeWine has asked for a 20 percent cut of costs in all departments. This has resulted in an estimated $355 million in cuts over the next few months. Here is how this is expected to hit Athens County school districts:
- Athens City: Originally allotted $7.64 million, with $3,139 in funding per student. This rate was reduced by $232 per student, amounting in $565,155 in lost revenue (1.67 percent of total operating expenditures)
- Alexander Local: Originally allotted $9.59 million, with $6,412 in funding per student. This rate was reduced by $194 per student, amounting in $289,673 in lost revenue (1.72 percent of total operating expenditures)
- Federal Hocking Local: Originally allotted $8.71 million, with $7,796 in funding per student. This rate was reduced by $190 per student, amounting in $212,000 in lost revenue (1.51 percent of total operating expenditures)
- Nelsonville-York Local: Originally allotted $10.59 million, with $9,464 in funding per student. This rate was reduced by $132 per student, amounting in $147,580 in lost revenue (0.99 percent of total operating expenditures)
- Trimble Local: Originally allotted $10.07 million, with $13,094 in funding per student. This rate was reduced by $92 per student, a total reduction of $70,489 to the district’s budget (0.57 percent of operating expenditures)
For school districts, state funding is one of the largest portions of K-12 district budgets, especially in rural areas of the state. Alexander Local has not received an increase to its State Share of Instruction (SSI) for several years. However, the state offers the largest portion of the school’s operating budget — 51.6 percent of the district’s spending came from state funds, before the decrease.
Nelsonville-York has an even higher percentage in its budget of state funds — 69.5 percent of the school’s funding comes from the state.
“Public service employees – including food service workers who are feeding thousands of students who typically rely on breakfast and lunch at school, bus drivers who are delivering those meals, and custodians who are maintaining our school buildings and keeping them disinfected – are essential to fighting this pandemic and re-opening our economy,” Reps. Beatty and Stivers said in a joint statement. “We can do neither if we lay them off.”
Stivers noted on the call that he is seeking additionally to “untie the strings” on the prior COVID-19 spending packages. He said this is needed to allow organizations to recoup losses that are due to the pandemic, but cannot be directly attributed to COVID-19 policy changes. Items like sanitizing and protective equipment costs are some of the uses for the funding currently, but Stivers noted that revenue loss due to the pandemic are not just directly tied to the safety measures.
He also noted that it appears this current bill will not pass, but has hopes of creating a bill with these measures that will pass and be signed by President Donald Trump.