The leadership of New Bedford Public Schools must plan how to spend $21 million in so-called ESSER funds by September.

Superintendent Andrew O'Leary said there are no lack of projects on the drawing board, topped by maintenance and upgrades to school buildings.

New Bedford has already used federal funds to invest in a new central kitchen, and a school-based health center at New Bedford High School. O'Leary said both will open in December.

Repairs to the pool at New Bedford High have already been completed, school security improvements are ongoing, and renovations at the Hathaway School are on the drawing board.

"This is a district where when something breaks, it gets fixed, and we have a forward-looking approach to renovating and replacing our buildings," he said.

Superintendent O'Leary stopped by Townsquare Sunday to outline the district's spending plans and discuss other issues as well.

One of those issues is the number of students being home schooled in New Bedford.  According to a report by New Bedford Light, the number is nearly 300 – tops in the state.

O'Leary said the district is talking with many of those families now.

"The numbers were stark, so we are studying each student on a case-by-case basis," he said. "Every situation is a unique story, but I do see those numbers trending downward for next year."

O'Leary said he loves school libraries, but there are challenges in keeping them open: recruiting top notch librarians, refreshing collections, finding  appropriate space in a building and budget concerns.

"You have got to make sure the library is integrated into the life of the school, and that's happening at New Bedford High School," O'Leary said.

"We do have spaces at the middle schools, and the larger elementary schools, and we will certainly keep talking about bringing in top-notch librarians and how a library would work in those schools," he said. "It's really all about literacy and how students become engaged readers."

School attendance has been an ongoing problem, but O'Leary said the numbers are trending upward.

"We're getting back to 92-95 percent in some schools, so our direct outreach and school-based focus is working, but we're not out of the woods yet," he said.

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