Input on key funding decisions needed
School district officials are waiting to see how the state will address losses in student transportation
Last updated 4/1/2021 at 11:05am
CHENEY - School officials are taking a "wait and see what they do" approach to an estimated $5.98 million in funding the district could see from the federal American Relief Plan (ARP) Act.
The "they" in that approach is the state Legislature, which at press time had yet to fully define how they intend to help school districts with financial impacts sustained from the COVID-19 pandemic. In Cheney's case, according to information from the board's Feb. 24 meeting, a sizeable chunk of that is a reduction in state allocation of over $1.23 million for transportation, much of it stemming from reduced bus ridership because of health and safety protocols and fewer routes being run.
Right now, the district is bracing for having to use some of its projected annual ending fund balance to cover those expenses, which would reduce their current projections of having around $5 million in the fund remaining by August.
"We're still waiting for legislative action to kind of determine what that's going to look like, so that could end up looking a little bit better as we get to the end of the yar, but assuming the worst as we project out," Finance Director Jamie Weingart told the board.
So far, the district has received $3,352,240 in federal pandemic relief funding referred to as "ESSER" funding, or Elementary and Secondary School Economic Relief funds. Weingart said those have been put into three "buckets," beginning with $688,731 in CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act ESSER I funding received last spring.
"We've already spent those in full," she said, adding the money went to purchasing COVID-19 protection and sanitation supplies (PPE), internet and technology support for students as the district moved into all online instruction and two professional development days for teachers.
The district received $2,662,509 in ESSER II funds from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act enacted in December. Some of that funding is still available - with districts having until September 2023 to use the money - and has been spent on more PPE, additional health and nursing aide time, 4 – 5 teachers to assist with 4th and 5th grade reopening plans and planning for summer and fall instruction.
The new ESSER III funds estimated at $5.98 million carry the same time frame for use, and will help with the district's full-reopening plans going forward. But Weingart said they need legislative action to be final, and there is a caveat included in Senate Bill 2158 addressing "Pupil Transportation" that gives all school districts some pause: "Clarifies federal relief funds are intended to address the transportation backfill, declaring a new Relief Account is a 'payor of last resort.'"
"They're saying that they would like us to first use those federal relief dollars, those ESSER II dollars, to backfill our transportation loss before we could really access any other kind of safeguards they're putting in place for transportation," Weingart said. "That's kind of the unknown still as it moves through the budgetary side, is if they're going to put some additional state money towards that or if it is going to look towards ESSER dollars first before they help to eliminate some of that loss that we've seen in transportation this year."
House and Senate Democrats released their individual 2021 – 2023 budgets last week. The Senate sets aside $1.7 billion in federal ESSER funding from ARP to assist K-12 schools in reopening plans and addressing student learning losses, as well as $357.9 million to address "One-time funding is provided for one-time pupil transportation payments to school districts to address lower pupil transportation payments for the 2020-21 school year."
The House's $2.2 billion K-12 and Higher Education two-year budget combines state and federal funding for a number of education issues, including funding five additional school days this year to help address student learning losses.
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.