Noelle Short is the superintendent of the Long Lake Central school district in upstate New York, comprised of a single K-12 school building that serves fewer than 100 students. Her district was among a small but notable percentage of districts around the country that did not receive any federal COVID-relief funds.
Here’s the reason Long Lake was left out: Congress allocated three rounds of COVID relief funds to districts based on their annual share of Title I aid for schools with high-need students. But Long Lake doesn’t doesn’t receive Title I aid, so it didn’t get a piece of the COVID assistance pie.
Short explains why the omission of the one-time emergency funds intended to help schools cope with the pandemic and its aftermath makes her concerned about future emergencies and frustrates her about what her school will never be able to offer its students. The following interview, conducted by phone in August, has been edited for length and clarity.
Hamilton County is the most geographically vast county in New York state, and the most sparsely populated, with a large elderly population and a lot of state land. There are four one-school districts, with comparable communities in terms of wealth ratio, lake homeowners. Two out of the 4 schools received quite a bit of the federal COVID funding [through the Title I formula]. Two out of the 4 schools, including ours, did not.
Our student enrollment is never going to be more than 100 kids. It’s been pretty stable for the past 15 years. Close to 40 percent of my student population, the year-round residents, qualify for free and reduced-price meals. [The district doesn’t receive Title I aid for those students due to technicalities in the funding formula that put small, rural districts at a disadvantage.]
We’re probably the most rural, remote school in all of New York state. The nearest school district is 20 miles in either direction. We’re close to Lake Placid, in the Adirondacks. It’s a beautiful, wonderful place to live.
The summer population quadruples the year-round residents’ population. If you came today, you would see the streets lined up, the restaurants are super busy. You come back in the winter, and it’s a different place.
Our community is really supportive of our school. My dad went to school here. We’re always living within our means. We have one English teacher for 7th through 12th grade, one elementary teacher per grade level.
I haven’t been able to look ahead to think about what I could have to make my building better for students and staff because it’s not an option.
I absolutely understand, if the federal government has a lot of money, they have to figure out a way to get it out quickly. There was no intention of leaving anyone out. It just goes to show, if we’re going to start funding schools for things that every school should have, no one should be left out.
I had to tell this story so many times, and no one had a clue—our state representatives, [U.S.] senators. Then it became too late because it literally would have taken an act of Congress to change how the funding was allocated.
The COVID thing was infuriating because I have superintendent colleagues who are surrounding me who have the same makeup in their communities as I do. They didn’t know how to spend all the money that they got.
I have an old building with old heating systems. I have neighbors who were able to install generators. We need better classroom technology, when you start to think about COVID learning loss. I would love to hire a school resource officer, an additional social worker. I don’t have that luxury.
We did eventually receive reserve funds from the state. We were able to reserve some of that to offset new curriculum projects. It was a smaller amount of money to what our neighbors got, and there were more restrictions for what it could be used for.
I don’t want by any stretch of the imagination to sound ungrateful. It was a response, which was excellent. But there’s going to be another time when Title I is going to be used to face the next big emergency.
It happened with COVID. It’s going to keep happening. What happens if they use the Title I funding to fund school security? Some get infrastructure for security systems and some don’t?
A version of this article appeared in the September 21, 2022 edition of Education Week as This Superintendent’s Tiny, Rural District Got No COVID Aid. Here’s Why That Hurts