School Committee votes to join resolution against unfunded COVID-19 mandates

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North Attleborough High School

By Max Bowen-max.bowen@northstarreporter.com

When school resumes in the fall, how COVID-related cleaning supplies, additional materials, and staffing will be paid for is on the minds of many.

Districts have already taken a hit from the drop in state aid, with some resorting to laying off staff or cutting programs. In North Attleborough, a $1.25 million decrease to the budget has been covered without any reduction to personnel, though some capital projects and planned hires had to be tabled. Added to this the bills that will come in for things like disinfectants and face masks, and superintendents are eying any available funds.

Recently, the Massachusetts Association of School Committees {MASC] passed a resolution that with schools to re-open for in-person classes should it be safe enough to do so, “the state cannot expect mandatory COVID-19 safety guidelines to be followed without also ensuring that each school district has the funds required to implement these guidelines.”

That the state must guarantee every school district full reimbursement for whatever COVID-19 expenses are required to follow state mandates,” the resolution read.

Already, 40 percent of the school districts in the state have voted to support the resolution. At its meeting on July 2, the School Committee joined this number. Chairman James McKenna was the sole opposition, which he called “a protest vote.” He said that in the past the MASC has favored urban schools over suburban, and that the latter typically came up short when it came to funding. For years the North Attleborough schools have not been a member of the MASC, which costs $5,000 annually.

I question if they’re doing all they can for their members,” said McKenna.

Sarah Stone, who was recently elected to the committee, advocated supporting the resolution, saying that the state was requiring much of the districts. Kathryn Hobbs was skeptical of how much good it would do, but felt they should be a part of it. John Costello said it made sense to support the resolution,

I don’t see how we’re going to get by without all these reimbursements,” said Costello.

In mid-June it was announced that Massachusetts schools need to come up with three plans for the fall—in-person classes, remote learning, and a hybrid of the two. Among the requirements of in-person learning are regular cleanings of all the schools, face masks, and a minimum three-foot distance between desks.

Superintendent Scott Holcomb said there are revenue streams that schools can access. Among these are the CARES Act, which covers unexpected COVID-related costs as well as $400,000 through Title 1, which provides federal funding for low-income districts. One issue is that these funds are reimbursement payments, and so districts will need to cover the costs themselves. Already North Attleborough has purchased 1,000 gallons of Lysol and 100,000 face masks.

There’s no timeline of when they’ll release these funds,” he said.