YCSD school leader spent $3.6 million on covid tests when state offered kits for free
In part 2 of this months-long 21 News Watchdog investigation, we look at why the Youngstown City School District spent millions of federal funds for COVID tests for students and their families at a time when the tests were offered free by the Ohio Department of Health. 21 News spoke with the head of the Youngstown City Schools Justin Jennings, on why he decided to spend nearly $4 million for the tests and what exactly the district got with your tax dollars.
By March of 2021, the pandemic had just entered its second year, but with rapid COVID testing and vaccines now available, schools were beginning to return to in-person learning, including Youngstown.
Most area schools reopened their doors in early March, but Youngstown City Schools were one of the last districts not only in the Mahoning Valley but in the entire state to go back to in-person learning.
By April, the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Department of Health provided free COVID tests to all school districts to help stop the spread of the virus with students back in the buildings.
The Ohio Department of Health told 21 News that Valley school districts received more than 18,000 free covid tests, with Youngstown, one of the top recipients in the area, receiving more than 1,000 free kits.
When asked if there were any limitations on the number of tests a district could request, the answer was no. The Ohio Department of Health told 21 News that schools were asked to order a number of tests that they could use within a reasonable amount of time, but did not set any hard caps on how many tests the ODH would provide.
ODE said that school districts had a wide range of options for using the tests, stating the department provided flexibility to schools concerning their use of tests. Some options listed by the ODE included asymptomatic screening, testing of staff and students, ending quarantine, event-based testing such as back to school, graduations, and testing for athletics as good uses for these tests.
Even as these tests were available for free, then-CEO Jennings opted to buy additional tests, at a cost of nearly $4 million. He bought the tests from QuickMed, a locally owned company he contracted to run the district’s in-school medical health clinics and mobile dental, audiology and ophthalmology services.
So how many tests did Youngstown get for the millions it spent?
Purchase orders and invoices for the COVID tests obtained by 21 News show the district purchased a total of 120,000 tests, along with 7,000 promotional bags and 7,000 instructional letters, for a total of $3,673,038.14 in COVID tests between December of 2021 and March of 2022.
There are 4,879 students in the Youngstown City School District.
Jennings said he purchased additional tests to provide testing to family members of students because of the city’s low vaccination rate and to keep children in the district safe.
With the district having 4,879 students and 343 teachers - that means Jennings purchased enough tests for every student and teacher in the district to receive 22 tests each, not including the more than 1,000 free tests already provided by the state, according to the Ohio Department of Education.
The entire city of Youngstown’s population, according to the 2020 Census, is 60,270, meaning Jennings purchased enough tests for every resident of the city to receive two tests, regardless of whether they have any connection to the school district. Again, this is not counting the free tests given to the schools by the state.
Jennings stressed the importance of getting not just students but also their family members tested for Covid. However, tests became free for the general public in early 2021 from the Youngstown city health district and were also distributed at a number of walk-in and drive-through events. Many of those events, such as several at libraries, were met with high demand and ran out after distributing thousands of tests.
WHAT DID OTHER DISTRICTS DO?
For comparison, 21 News reached out to other comparable local districts to see how much tax money they spent on these tests. The answer: none.
Austintown School District superintendent’s office told 21 News that it didn’t spend any funds for rapid COVID tests as the district received them for free from the state. Austintown has approximately 4,100 students in comparison to Youngstown’s 4,700 students. Boardman schools, which has 3,800 students, also did not purchase any COVID test kits, also citing the free tests from the state. Warren city schools, with a student population closest to Youngstown’s at 4,416, also spent nothing on Covid tests, also citing the free tests received by the state.
Outside of the Mahoning Valley, 21 News reached out to the Akron City School District, which has more 20,000 students. They spent nearly $597,000 for COVID-related testing materials and services, according to Heidi Muica, Administrative Assistant in the Legal Department of Akron Public Schools.
While Akron allowed students, staff and family members of confirmed COVID-positive students access to the tests, Youngstown provided COVID tests to students, staff and the district families.
The purchase order dates show that the district ordered test kits six times:
- 40,000 tests ordered at a cost of $23.50 per test on December 30, 2021
- 10,000 tests at a cost of $23.50 the very next day, December 31, 2021.
- 25,000 tests at a cost of $34 per test on October 4, 2021
- 15,000 tests at a cost of $36 per test on November 1, 2021
- 15,000 tests at a cost of $36 per test on January 1, 2022
- and another 15,000 at a cost of $36 per test on March 1, 2022.
When asked how many of these tests were distributed, Jennings said he did not know offhand, but a source within the district tells 21 News that hundreds expired and were thrown in the garbage.
This is part two of three in the 21 News Watchdog investigation, YCSD: Following the Money.