Dear Superintendent Benaquista,
As the district undertakes the crucial work of planning for the allocation of the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) funds, I am writing to you on behalf of the Union Township Education Association (UTEA) which represents 850 Township of Union educators. Collaboration with and reliance upon the expertise and invaluable perspective of the educators who serve our students day in and day out is essential to effective planning as was reflected in the Department’s guidance to state commissioners and grant guidance stating “educators and their unions, should be an essential component of the process.”
The UTEA requests inclusion in the planning and oversight of programs developed with the ARP ESSER funds. At a minimum, the UTEA is looking forward to seats on committees and opportunities for advance review and comment of draft plans. The UTEA, along with our sister associations and community partners in the Township of Union, should have a voice in every aspect of this process.
As you are aware, the receipt of ARP ESSER funds is conditioned on the District developing and making publicly available on its website a plan for safe in–person instruction and continuity of services. The District is required as part of this process to seek public comment on this plan and to take those comments into account. See ARP Sections 2001(i)(1) –(2). Meaningful engagement and participation in planning by teachers and staff is essential to building trust and ensuring the best possible allocation and use of resources and the highest degree of support for students.
It is critical that programs and services offered will address the many impacts of COVID–19 on students and schools. They should include ideas and effective ways to address COVID opportunity gaps and disrupted instruction. Specifically, committing to small elementary class sizes, so all students will benefit from increased personal time with their educators is paramount. To achieve this goal, these funds should be used torehire all non–renewed employees.
As you may know, the state educational agency has certified to the US Department of Education that it will comply with the maintenance of equity provisions in Section 2004(b) of the obligations in Section 2004(c) of the ARP. We urge you to strictly comply with these statutory requirements and to commit to using these federal emergency funds to address the unprecedented challenges our schools face, particularly in communities that have been the most severely impacted both by the pandemic and underlying, longstanding inequities. As an organization representing educators who have been on the frontlines throughout this crisis and on behalf of the students they serve, we will continue to push for accountability and transparency in the allocation of funds.
We look forward to working with you to ensure prudent, effective allocation of these funds to provide safe and equitable schools for all students.
President Union Township Education Association