Gilbert School superintendent concerned by lack of federal funding

WINSTED — The Gilbert School will not receive as much federal funding as it had expected, and that means less to spend on pandemic-related expenses, according to Superintendent of Schools Anthony Serio.

“Frankly, I was hoping we’d get between $400,000 and $500,000,” Serio said. “Instead, we’re getting $155,000. It’s very disappointing.”

The amount is lower because, while the federal government has provided grants and other funding to school districts to compensate for added costs, not every school is eligible for full funding. The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021, signed into law in December 2020, provided an additional $54.3 billion for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER II Fund), according to the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The funding, according to the OESE, is for stabilizing school districts by providing added academic support and other needed intervention to help students catch up after a year of remote learning.


But endowed academies, including the Gilbert School, Woodstock Academy and the Norwich Free Academy recently learned that they are not receiving the ESSER II money, Serio said.

Serio said that’s bad news.

“This funding is basically the enhanced recovery money that was put together by the federal government, to help us get back on track,” he said.

Serio said public schools received funding based on Title 1. Schools in which children from low-income families make up at least 40 percent of enrollment are eligible to use Title I funds to operate schoolwide programs that serve all children in the school in order to raise the achievement of the lowest-achieving students, according to the Department of Education.

“The thing is, we are educating public school students,” Serio said. “But we’re not considered Title 1, so we were left out of the ESSER II equation.”

Serio recently presented a proposed budget for the semi-private school of about 430 students, a package totaling $7.843 million for 2021-22.

Serio added faculty positions to teach math and English to the Gilbert School budget for 2021-22, as well as two support positions to provide one-on-one tutoring or other assistance to students who need extra attention. He also added a custodian to the budget to have enough staff to keep classrooms and other school areas clean.

But he had other ideas for possible funding from ESSER II. “I could work on COVID-19 related expenses, along with the students’ recovery,” he said. “For example, we spent money on our ventilation systems, and that was a big expense.”

Gilbert will have a three-week summer school program this year, five days a week for two hours a day. “Normally we don’t have summer school, but we have to have it this year,” he said. “It’s a way for us to help the kids who need to catch up.”

That said, Serio said $155,000 will be used for whatever is needed. “It’s not as robust as I would have liked to see,” he said. “I’m still going to do these things, but we’re not getting as much money.”

Serio has spoken with state Rep. Jay Case, R-Winsted, about his predicament. “He talks to Sen. Craig Miner, and Miner talks to Sen. Cathy Austin, who works on the appropriations committee,” Serio said. “They’ve been in conversations on how to help the endowed academies.”

Between the three academies, there are about 3,700 students, Serio said. But endowed academies are regarded differently than “regular” public schools. He said that during the first round of funding, the three schools in question received about $1.5 million between them.

“We’re misunderstood,” the superintendent said. “Maybe the model of education is not in favor of endowed academies,” he said. “There are examples of difficulties, but this here is just … How do we teach them, how do we help them recover? How do you leave them out of the equation?”

Serio shared his concerns with the Gilbert School Corp. during the board’s recent meeting.

“I’ve had to really advocate for money that should have gone to town academies, because we’re serving public school students,” he said. “We have the same needs … We need to support them. I”m trying to plan my remedial strategies to get these kids back to the level where they were before remote learning.”