Education, Latest News, Monongalia County

Sunshine Week: The cost of COVID in Mon schools

This is one in a series of articles to mark Sunshine Week, which is a national initiative to educate the public about the importance of open government.

The pandemic doesn’t just carry intense human costs.

It’s also keeping a running tab in the Monongalia County school district.

Federal CARES Act dollars, plus efficient management in the district overall, are what is helping everyone in the district crest the fiscal wave that is COVID-19, Deputy Superintendent of Schools Donna Talerico said.

Mon Schools received a $1.7 million allotment in CARES money, she said, and that offering is shored up with a $700,000 carryover from last year’s budget.

Both are earmarked solely for COVID expenses, the deputy superintendent adds.

Talerico said she knows Monongalia is relatively prosperous compared to many counties in the Mountain State.

The operating budget for the 2020-21 academic year, for example, is $148 million, she said.

And Mon’s voters regularly vote in the affirmative for education levies at the ballot box, meaning this county can fund people and programs that other districts may not.

That includes education professionals for distance learning and the district’s specially trained, on-call COVID cleaning crew.

“We’re lucky, in that we have the resources,” she said.

Lucky, she hastens to add, because COVID-19 has deep pockets.

“It really does add up,” she said.

How much, and to what degree?

Try $371,000 alone for personal protective equipment – facemasks, cleaning products and the like, she said.

Add another $76,000 for training, salaries and other associated costs for the aforementioned COVID cleaning crew, whose members are existing district employees who bid on their additional jobs – after they were posted in the Central Office.

A whopping $418,000 goes to technology costs (hardware, software) for the supplemental costs of conducting the craft and business of education in the time of a pandemic, she said.

In contrast, Talerico said, the district only had to pay $18,000 to outfit select buses with Wi-Fi units to ensure connectivity across the county when schools were totally virtual last spring.

Ironically, the biggest outlay in the COVID cost ledger for Mon Schools is for a pandemic learning venue that is one of the least-popular in the county and across the state.

A total of $577,000 from the Morgantown-based school district is funneled to Charleston to help bankroll the state Department of Education’s “West Virginia Virtual” online component, where students work on classes from home with minimal supervision of teachers (some retirees) from outside their schools.

Those educators steer the learning, but don’t always offer day-to-day assistance or interaction.

In the meantime, the district also kicked in an additional $280,000 for more Chromebook laptop computers for more students.

A total of $43,000 has also gone to supplement counseling services, as students and their families deal across the county with the emotional ripples of the coronavirus.

Another $31,000 went for the purchase of a text-based communication network that allows schools and families to communicate more quickly and efficiently than social media, Talerico said.

The idea, she said, is to purchase or create services that can and will be used long after Mon County, and everywhere else, emerges on the other side of the coronavirus.

“We aren’t ‘spending to spend,’” she said.