At its Tuesday meeting, the Verona Board of Education accepted a $1,655,020 grant stemming from the federal pandemic relief CARES Act and a $125,000 grant from the state for school security.
The larger federal grant includes $1,350,498 in so-called ESSER Funds. ESSER stands for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief and local education authorities were given the authority to use the funds in a wide variety of ways to address the costs they incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as on any learning loss that has occurred. Some $2.7 billion in federal pandemic aid heading was earmarked for public schools in New Jersey. Districts have three years to use their awards, but 20% must be spent on remediating learning loss.
(Verona got more in ESSER funds than Cedar Grove, which got $1,013,073, but less than some other schools in our area. According to data on the independent news site NJSpotlight.com, Caldwell-West Caldwell got $1,412,743 and Montclair got $5,071,330.)
According to a breakdown provided by Jorge Cruz, the business administrator of Verona’s public schools, Verona will spend $1,056,000 of its ESSER funds in the first year. Of that, $300,000 will be spent on indoor air quality improvements, $259,000 will go to Chromebooks for H.B. Whitehorne Middle School, $200,000 will be for hiring paraprofessionals, and $172,000 will be for math and literacy coaches.
While Verona leased its first round of Chromebooks, it is using the ESSER money for an out-right purchase of 700 Chromebooks, which means that it will have one laptop for every middle school student. The district bought them just before the start of the 2021 school year, once it was assured that that it would be getting reimbursed.
In addition, Verona is getting a $45,000 Mental Health Support Staffing Grant, which will pay for training school counselors and Child Study Team members to receive school Mental Wellness Specialist certification. The grant will also cover social worker support of at-risk students over the summer, five presentations for parents from Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care, and a social emotional learning (SEL) program for the middle school.
Verona also got two $40,000 grants to support evidence-based summer school and after-school enrichment classes, and $179,522 for professional training programs for teachers.
Finally, BOE member Jim Day told the Board that Verona has secured a $125,000 grant to install panic alarms in schools that would be directly linked to the Verona Police Department. The funding will help Verona to comply with “Alyssa’s Law,” a measure enacted in New Jersey in 2019 in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida that killed 17 students and teachers.