Daniel Zhao, Senior Photographer

New Haven Public Schools officials announced a modest bump in this year’s budget, some of which will go to English Language Learner programs and a fund to support neighborhood schools.

At Monday evening’s Board of Education meeting, New Haven Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Phillip Penn presented a $198 million budget proposal for the district’s 2021-22 school year — a 4.65 percent increase from last year’s budget of about $189 million. The majority of the budget increase will fund a $7.8 million raise in teacher pay and a $2.8 million raise in administrative pay. Over $350,000 will go to funds that will help schools with large English Language Learner populations and non-Title I neighborhood schools. New funds and district savings from reduced operational expenditures, including nearly $1 million from the closure of West Rock and Quinnipiac schools, have helped the district pay for these newfound costs.

“[The proposed budget] reflects what we would call a ‘status quo’ budget,” said Penn. “What that means for us is that we are saying it doesn’t add additional resources to the district.”

The proposed budget also seeks to address issues of equity. Penn explained that usually, each NHPS school receives $1.75 million in discretionary spending and another $500,000 to compensate part-time staff for a baseline of $2.25 million.

This year, for the first time, Penn said the district plans to set aside a district-wide pool of $250,000 for English Language Learner programs and another of $100,000 for neighborhood schools. Penn said that these funds are helpful because certain neighborhood schools, like Nathan Hale School in East Shore, are not Title I schools, meaning they do not qualify for federal Title I funds because less than 40 percent of their student body qualifies as low-income. Those schools also are not magnet schools, which receive their own specialized federal funding. That means they do not receive additional funds above the district’s $2.25 million baseline allocation.

The district plans to divide the English Language Learner pool among NHPS schools with an ELL student population equal to or greater than 15 percent. Penn said he hopes this mechanism can ensure a more equitable distribution of district funds.

Federal dollars will also factor into the district’s plans for equity this year.

NHPS is set to receive about $37.8 million in COVID-19-related federal aid through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, better known as ESSER II. That amount dwarfs the $8.5 million that the district received last year from the federal government as a part of the CARES Act.

Exactly how much the ESSER II funds will help is still unclear. These funds, Penn noted, are not discretionary. The district’s chief financial officer told the board that because the funds are restricted, ESSER II funds may be unusable should the district face a deficit “going into next year.” According to federal guidelines, ESSER II funds are to be used to address “learning loss,” prepare schools for reopening and improve air quality in school buildings.

District Superintendent Iline Tracey confirmed that as of Monday, the district has set up a planning committee that will determine how ESSER II funds should be allocated.

“There are specific priorities of the [ESSER II] grant in terms of areas in which we can spend this money,” said Tracey. “So we have convened so far a planning committee [that will] have focus groups [and] meet with community members. We’re meeting with all stakeholders, including the board. Everyone is involved in this aspect.”

Assistant Superintendent Keisha Redd-Hannans told the board that the planning committee’s 75 members will focus on four “priority areas” for funding. These include academic programs, youth and family engagement opportunities, remote learning support and social and emotional well-being services. Redd-Hannans said that a team leader will head a section of the committee focused on each of the four areas. NHPS must spend the ESSER II money by September 2023.

NHPS elementary school students have had a hybrid learning option available to them since Jan. 19.

Christian Robles | christian.robles@yale.edu

CHRISTIAN ROBLES
Christian Robles covers education & youth services. He is a sophomore in Davenport College studying Political Science and Economics.