22News I-Team: The cost of distance learning

I-Team

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – On March 12, Governor Charlie Baker announced that all school buildings would be closing and students would begin distance learning to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

“I don’t think anyone saw this coming,” Springfield Superintendent Daniel Warwick said.

“It was a scramble to say the least because we had to pivot real quick,” Assistant Superintendent of Chicopee Public Schools, Alvin Morton, said.

Suddenly getting thousands of students and teachers online came at a price. According to purchase orders obtained by the 22News I-Team, Holyoke Public Schools had to shell out $28,711.95 on Chromebooks and another $18,000 on a Zoom license.

West Springfield spent about $4,509 on a Zoom license and WiFi hotspots, but it was all reimbursed through the CARES Act, according to Acting Assistant Superintendent Kevin McQuillan.

Purchase orders show that Chicopee Public Schools spent more than $670,500 on Chromebooks and another $2,124.80 on WiFi hotspots.

“We probably bought about 450-500 Chromebooks,” Morton said. “We kept updating the plan. We kept adding things to it, making sure students had Chromebooks, making sure we could get internet service for families.”

Chicopee was also able to get reimbursed for some of the costs through multiple grants.

In Springfield, the district had to spend $315,000 on hundreds of WiFi hotspots. Superintendent Warwick told the 22News I-Team they already had laptops for all students in grades 3-12. However, they needed to buy them for the kindergarten, first, and second-grade students.

“That would have cost us $2,000,000 out of our budget,” Warwick explained. “The Mayor stepped up with some emergency funding and gave us $2,000,000 for the kindergarten through second grade, 1-to-1 program.”

In addition to that money, the district received another $3,000,000 from the city to buy PPE. It’s not needed immediately but will be needed when the school buildings open back up eventually.

“We will be moving to a hybrid plan,” Warwick added. “When we move to that hybrid plan, we’ll be ready and we will have the PPE.”

Springfield also received CARES Act funding, but Superintendent Warwick said they are holding onto it. He said they still don’t know how much money they will get from the state this year, so the district wants to save it in case there’s a shortfall with the budget.

Holyoke, West Springfield, and Springfield will all be starting the year remotely. Chicopee will be phasing students back into the classroom every few weeks, depending on how the city is doing in terms of infection rates.

We have a list of fall plans for districts all across western Massachusetts here.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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