Ridgefield BOE trying to change how state reimburses schools for COVID

A school bus heads towards Ridgefield High School on Thursday afternoon at the end of the school day. January 21, 2016, in Ridgefield, Conn.

A school bus heads towards Ridgefield High School on Thursday afternoon at the end of the school day. January 21, 2016, in Ridgefield, Conn.

H John Voorhees III / Hearst Connecticut Media

RIDGEFIELD — The school board is trying to get the state to rethink its COVID reimbursements, saying the current model focuses more on demographics than actual districts’ costs.

The board created a working group at this week’s meeting to come up with a new reimbursement model the district can present to the state. Board members Tina Malhotra and Liz Floegel, as well as board Chairman Jonathan Steckler will serve on it.

“As the legislative body goes through the reimbursements related to COVID, the methodology until now is either Title 1 or the Education Cost Sharing, which doesn’t take into account any kind of actual in-person costs versus remote or any kind of size of district or other actual costs,” Floegel said. “It’s just a blanket and it’s based on different demographics than are related to the COVID pandemic.”

She said under the current model, a district that is remote might get more money than a district, such as Ridgefield, that has kept the students in person since August.

“So to find a different school system that’s been in from August through now without significant health issues and mostly in person, this wouldn’t be right for the students of Ridgefield or the taxpayers of Ridgefield,” Floegel said.

State Sen. Will Haskell said Ridgefield received about $94,000 of the $111 million available in Connecticut during the first round of federal funding. The most recent COVID relief funding includes $82 million total for education with Conencticut expected to get $492 million this time around for K-12 schools. He said this means Ridgefield could also see more money this time.

He said the federal government is allocating this new round of money with an emphasis on helping students in terms of social and emotional well-being, evaluating students in terms of learning loss and providing for that remediation.

Haskell said have been no final determinations as of how that money will be spent, hoping that Ridgefield will help in making really meaningful suggestions.

Superintendent Susie Da Silva said the district should find out how much it’s receiving in the next few weeks.

“The good thing is as the district is expected to receive additional funding from the CRF, the Coronavirus Relief Fund, how much that’s actually going to be, we don’t know,” Da Silva said.

Members of the General Assembly are also looking at alternative ways to create a more relevant cost-sharing model.

State Rep. Aimee Berger-Girvalo told the school board the group would need to start working this week so they could provide input to the legislature earlier in the process. She offered to be a part of it and suggested the members look at what sets Ridgefield apart, as well as at towns similar to Ridgefield.

Haskell also encouraged expediency.

“I just want to underline what Amy said which was urgency of making proposals to the state and trying to influence the outcome of how the state education department will distribute those dollars,” he said.

Board member Kathleen Holz supported the idea.

“Despite the hiccups, I think our school district has been a model,” Holz said. “I think it’s a great idea to get together and brainstorm so that we can coalesce and work to show what Ridgefield has done and maybe be leaders in this and help determine how the money is being distributed amongst communities, not just formulaic but maybe by actions.”