New York schools have been squeezed over the last two-and-a-half years by the COVID-19 pandemic. But at the same time, school leaders report they are providing more services for their communities amid ongoing financial and mental health struggles. 

The New York State Council of School Superintendents on Wednesday released a survey of its members finding many have taken on more duties since the start of the pandemic. 

“In open-ended comments for our survey, the one theme emphasized most often by superintendents is that while schools have often been a hub for many community services, that role has expanded dramatically in recent years," said Executive Director Charles Dedrick.  “As one of our members observed, ‘Public education is the first, most efficiently provided, most accessible, and best of all the safety nets we provide for children.’”

A majority of superintendents surveyed agreed their schools had taken on an expanded role in providing health, mental health, food and recreation. A large majority, 81%, agreed their schools are first source source of mental health care services in their community. 

School leaders have had thier confidence buoyed, also, by the availability of state and federal aid. More than half, 55%, are still optimistic the aid will still be adequate enough to fund services to support students within the next three years. 

But at the same time, 54% of superintendents pointed to the end of COVID-19 relief aid as a major factor for concern over their financial outlook for schools. 

The report also comes as advocacy organizations have raised concerns with the pace of spending by schools who have received COVID-19 relief funds meant to address learning loss over the last several years. 

But the superintendents reported their district budgets will also aid student services, including additional academic help and core instruction at all grade levels. Most superintendents also expect improvements are coming for career and technical education, access to advance classes, enrichment programs during the summer and pre-kindergarten programs.