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City Schools CEO says district plans to remain online for now

Justin Jennings also said the YOU Care QUICKmed clinics are expected to open in November and will be able to provide outpatient services to students.
Jennings CEO 10152020
Youngstown City Schools CEO Justin Jennings during his virtual update on Wednesday.

YOUNGSTOWN — City Schools CEO Justin Jennings provided information on his decision to not return to in-person classes, the new YOU Care QUICKmed clinic services and the district’s budget during his monthly update Wednesday.

Here are the highlights of the meeting:

Keeping school online

At the start of online schooling, the district planned to reevaluate and possibly transition into hybrid or in-person models based on how the COVID-19 pandemic progressed. With recent spikes in cases in the county and surrounding areas, Jennings said schools will continue online-only for the time being.

“I don’t think remote learning is perfect,” Jennings said. “We have a lot of work to do, but I think we’re a lot farther ahead of the game than other people.”

Jennings said there are many factors to consider when it comes to changing plans for the district, but the health and safety of students, staff and families is the most important factor.

“Considering the health of all of our scholars, all of our teachers, all of our administrators, all of our nonclassified staff ... I think that that outweighs anything we could do right now,” Jennings said.

About 40 percent of students live with grandparents, who are at high risk if they are exposed to COVID-19, Jennings said. Many teachers also live outside of the city, so spikes in surrounding areas also have to be considered.

Jennings said the district is also trying to figure out transportation if students return to in-person teaching since buses are currently being used by private and parochial schools.

The district already has a limited number of buses, and the number of students on each bus would have to be reduced to half for social distancing. In order to transport all the students, school times would have to be delayed, Jennings said.

The district received a grant to buy a new bus and is working on another grant to get two more, but it won’t be enough to transport all students. Jennings said the district is also looking for other solutions within the district’s budget.

“Right now, we’re going to stay the course where we are and err on the side of safety,” Jennings said.

YOU Care QUICKmed clinics

YOU Care QUICKmed clinics will be launched at East and Chaney high schools to provide pediatricians for students in the district. 

During the update, Youngstown City Schools nursing supervisor Kenyetta Burr and Lena Esmail, CEO of QUICKmed Urgent Care, discussed how the clinic would be beneficial for student’s health and attendance in school.

Esmail said the clinics are coming to Youngstown City Schools since there has been a lack of pediatricians available within the city.

“This is the entire citywide issue where pediatricians moved out of the city to service the suburbs, and they left behind, unintentionally, the needs of the inner-city students,” Esmail said.

Jennings, Burr and Esmail decided that the two high schools would be the best locations to provide care for the entire school district.

Burr said one of the main concerns that school nurses have is that they can only do so much when students come to them in the middle of the school day.

“They will come in with an element that ice or water is not going to cure, so the only thing they have been able to do was to call a parent and send the child home,” Burr said.

When the child is sent home, they will most likely come back the next day with the same problem because they weren’t able to go to the doctor.

The clinic will allow the student to receive diagnostic testing to find out what the student is sick with, give them antibiotics and send them home with a prescription to take to the pharmacy.

“A standing rule for antibiotics is you can come back to school once you've been on it for 24 hours, so the kids ultimately will not be missing the next day of school,” Burr said. “They can take it that day in school and then come to school the next day.”

Esmail said unless the student needs to go to the emergency room or needs an X-ray, the clinics will be able to treat them for almost any outpatient services, which includes immunizations, doctor referrals and prescriptions.

Burr said the clinics will benefit student attendance since children cannot learn when they are sick mentally, physically or emotionally.

“We have to target those issues before a child can actually become educated,” Burr said.

The clinics will offer family medical services and provide care to anyone with insurance, though nobody will be turned away. The clinics are expected to open in November, but an official date has not been set.

Budget update

Treasurer A.J. Ginnetti provided an update on the first two months of the fiscal year for the school district.

For the 2021 fiscal year, the revenues for all funds are about $156 million, and the general fund revenue is about $155 million. The general fund revenue is about $123 million, and expenses have been projected at $122 million.

During the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, the district finished with about a $2.4 million surplus in the general fund.

For July, the revenues for general fund revenues were about $13.8 million, and the expenses for the general fund were about $11.6 million. For August, the general fund revenues were about $12.8 million, and the general fund expenses were about $10.4 million.

Jennings said the increase in spending in July was due to stimulus money from federal and state governments coming in and being spent in July.

“From a statewide standpoint, the revenues in our state were up in July, and that's ... not what normally would be expected during a pandemic, but ... a lot of the stimulus money was spent,” Jennings said.

There is currently a $4.5 million surplus in the general fund through the first two months that is due to the general property real estate tax that the district receives from the Mahoning County auditor.

Ellen Wagner

About the Author: Ellen Wagner

Ellen Wagner reports on municipal services and budget cuts in Youngstown. She is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.
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