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Home > News > School district discusses staffing needs and use of federal pandemic funds

School district discusses staffing needs and use of federal pandemic funds

By Jeri Chadwell
Jenni Wallner is kitchen manager at Virginia Palmer Elementary School in Reno, Nev. She said she loves her job, which she's had for more than two decades. Image: Jeri Chadwell / This Is Reno

Washoe County School District (WCSD) Superintendent Kristen McNeill and School Board President Angie Taylor spoke with the media Friday morning to give an update on the first weeks of classes. They focused on continuing staffing needs and the spending grant monies the school board has voted to accept.

The school district needs to fill 35 openings for custodial workers, 127 vacancies for classroom aides and assistants, 41 transportation positions and 85 for nutrition services.

The district will also use a little less than half a million dollars from Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund II and III (ESSER) to hire people for eight temporary positions within the district. They’ll be supporting human resources, information technology and business and finance, including purchasing.

These jobs are not expected to last past 2023, but district officials have said they believe they will be able to absorb those working the temporary positions into permanent employment.

A little more than $6.3 million received from the Nevada Department Health and Human Services through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 under the Epidemiology Laboratory Capacity Reopening Schools grant will be used to hire additional clinical aides, an employee health nurse and school nurse substitutes.

The funding will also be used for COVID-19 testing for staff and students, as necessary. The board approved on Tuesday to use an amount up to $3,168,000 of these funds to join the existing state contract with Health Screening Solutions for testing.

Unvaccinated students playing close-contact sports like football, as well as unvaccinated coaches and volunteers for these sports, are required under Gov. Steve Sisolak’s Directive 048 to be tested once a week or whenever traveling outside of the county.

The school board voted on Tuesday to, at least temporarily, require testing for both vaccinated and unvaccinated students, coaches and volunteers in these instances. The board will revisit this decision during its Sept. 28 meeting.

According to the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association, students traveling to Washoe County from other counties will not be required to meet the WCSD’s more stringent testing protocol.

The school board also voted during its Tuesday meeting to accept grant funding from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The FCC earlier this year established the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) Program, to which Congress appropriated $7.17 billion. The program provides funding to schools and libraries to purchase laptops, tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, routers, modems and broadband connections for students and school staff. The grant will reimburse $400 for each connected device purchased before June 30, 2022.

The school district will be receiving $2 million and intends to use the money to purchase 5,000 laptops—1,960 for students and 3,040 for teachers.

Pedestrian and bus safety addressed

McNeill also noted that during the first few weeks of school there have been concerns raised with board members about drivers not stopping for buses when their stop signs are out, as they’re letting children off buses. It has also been noted that students walking to school are not using crosswalks.

McNeill appealed to students and drivers to obey traffic laws.

“When those signs are out on our buses, and it says stop, we cannot have people just ignore those signs,” McNeill said. “That is an extreme danger. I just ask our community, when you see one of our yellow buses stopped and students are loading or unloading, that you stop at those bus signs and follow those directions, please. Not only is it the law but it can absolutely save the life of a student.”

When school buses are stopped and their stop signs are out, there is only one legal way in which motorists can pass them: when the motorist is traveling in the opposite direction and the road has a physical barrier separating the traffic, such as a median or raised curb.

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