Monroe Ream

Monroe Ream, a fourth-grader at Bellville Elementary School, works on a Chromebook. COVID funds allowed Clear Fork Valley Local Schools to make technology upgrades.

BELLVILLE – Treasurer Bradd Stevens said this week that Clear Fork Valley Local Schools expects to delay putting a tax issue on the ballot until 2026.

Earlier, Stevens had anticipated that the district would have to seek an operating levy in 2024.

The two-year delay is the result of three factors: COVID-19 grant funds, savings realized when buildings were closed and a major district cost-savings initiative.

“Based on our five-year financial forecast I believe we can delay the need for a new tax issue for an additional two years,” Stevens said. “Many things could happen between now and 2026, but 2026 is our projection.”

To date, Clear Fork has received $509,554 in federal COVID and CARES Act grants passed through the state and local governments. The district expects to receive an additional $2,618,536.

COVID money has -- or will -- cover a wide range of costs that include:

-- Personal protective equipment such as masks, sanitizing equipment, plexiglass for desk dividers and cleaning supplies.

-- Chromebooks used by students during home remote learning, as well as software and other technology upgrades.

-- Upgrading the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning in older facilities to improve air quality.

-- The hiring of four social workers, through purchased-service contracts, to address students’ social and emotional needs resulting from isolation, remote learning and quarantine due to COVID.

-- Stabilizing the district workforce and avoiding layoffs by supplementing the salaries of employees that otherwise would have been reduced.

Locally, the district received $36,400 in pass-through CARES Act funds from the Richland County commissioners to provide cellular hotspots for students who didn’t have access to reliable internet. The Brown Township trustees provided $16,800 in pass-through CARES Act money for the purchase of additional sanitizing and cleaning supplies.

While Clear Fork is realizing $3.1 million in COVID funds, Stevens and Superintendent Janice Wyckoff said the district also has offset nearly $1 million in general fund expenditures, due largely to the closing of buildings from March 18, 2020 to the end of the school year and from the start of the 2020-2021 school year to Feb. 15.

Among the savings is $250,000 for future computer purchases, already paid for by COVID and CARES Act funds; $210,000 for two future bus purchases, offset by COVID money, and nearly $70,000 in fuel costs saved when buses weren’t on the roads.

Stevens said Clear Fork saved “a significant amount” of money when Wyckoff and teachers developed the district’s own remote learning structure.

“Other districts spent tens of thousands of dollars to hire a third party to set up remote learning,” Stevens said.

Wyckoff praised the district’s unions -- The Clear Fork Valley Education Association and Clear Fork Valley Ohio Association of Public School Employees -- for working with administrators to create the remote learning framework.

“Our two unions stepped up for our kids and we did it ourselves,” Wyckoff said. “We are lucky to have the staff that we have. When our buildings were closed, 65 percent of our staff -- teachers, custodians, bus drivers -- got onto our buses to deliver breakfasts and lunches prepared by food service. That is the kind of spirit that makes Clear Fork so special.”

The superintendent also credited the “tireless work” of Stevens and his staff: Denise Bowman, accounts payable, and Tammy Ludwig, payroll, as well as Vicki Bowman, Education Management Information System (EMIS) coordinator.

“The COVID grants have required many additional demands on record-keeping and preparation of detailed reports to the state,” Wyckoff said. “Without the tireless work of these people, getting through COVID would have been a nightmare.

Clear Fork Valley Local Schools is a client district of the Knox Educational Service Center in Mount Vernon. Knox ESC develops, implements, and operates cooperative, shared educational services for Clear Fork Valley, as well as the Centerburg, Danville, East Knox, Fredericktown, and Mount Vernon City school districts.

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