What impact will federal COVID-19 relief funds have on Exeter?

Over the past year, the federal government has allocated billions in relief funds to the nation’s school districts as part of an effort to help recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education.

Three separate funds have been designated known as Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds. ESSER funds are distributed to states based on each state’s proportionate share of Title I-A funding. The funds are intended to support COVID-19 response efforts and may be spent on a wide range of allowable activities.

Despite the obvious monetary benefit, the funds seek to give districts the ability to address a multitude of different initiatives. Learning loss suffered from the pandemic is one major push; and 20% of the money distributed from the last round of funding must be used to cover it.

The following amounts were allocated for the Exeter Township School District:

  • ESSER I (May 2020)
    • $355,585
    • Must be spent by September 2022
  • ESSER II (January 2021)
    • $1,524,528
    • Must be spent by September 2023
  • American Rescue Plan (ARP) ESSER (March 2021)
    • $3,158,380
    • Minimum of 20% of funds must be used to address learning loss
    • Must be spent by September 2024

Based on their ESSER II grant application, the school district plans to use the $1.52 million in funds for summer learning, benchmarking, and HVAC improvements.

A budget presentation is slated for the school board’s committee of the whole meeting scheduled for Tuesday, April 6, at 6 p.m. I’m hoping to get a better picture of the pandemic’s impact in the coming weeks as the district prepares to review its proposed final budget for the 2021-22 school year.

Click here for more information on Pennsylvania ESSER funds.

Jason Mell is running for a 4-year term on the Exeter Township School Board. He is a Planning Commissioner for Exeter Township and the former owner of The Exeter Informant. To read more about Jason, visit jasonmell.com.

The pension problem

“What will you do to fix the teachers pension?”

That’s one question I was asked since announcing my candidacy. The unfortunate truth is that any pension reform needs to be solved in Harrisburg.

The problem essentially boils down to the high employer contribution rate. The board for the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) just approved an increased employer contribution rate of 34.94% for the 2021-22 school year; up from the current rate of 34.51%.

While it is a statewide problem, it hits especially close to home when looking at the impact it has on the school district’s budget.

Contributions to the pension plan from the Exeter Township School District were $10,659,000 for the year ending June 30, 2020 according to the 2019-20 audit report by Maillie LLP. That accounted for approximately 13.5% of the school year’s budget.

Considering the employer contribution rate was just 5.64% ten years ago, you can imagine the impact the increases have had on school district budgets this past decade. Unfortunately, the reduction of rates from 1997 to 2011 are partially to blame for the problems we’re seeing today.

I don’t fault the teachers and staff. They didn’t cause the mess that we’re seeing with PSERS and they actively contribute to their plans which can range anywhere from 5.25% to 10.3% of their payroll depending on when they began paying into the system.

As much as I’d love to solve the problem, the issue ultimately needs to be tackled by our state representatives.

For more information on PSERS contribution rates, visit https://www.psers.pa.gov/FPP/Publications/General/Pages/Employer-Contribution-Rates.aspx.

Jason Mell is running for a 4-year term on the Exeter Township School Board. He is a Planning Commissioner for Exeter Township and the former owner of The Exeter Informant. To read more about Jason, visit jasonmell.com.