‘An unheard-of opportunity.’ Fayette schools consider managing, spending COVID millions.

·4 min read

Acting Superintendent Marlene Helm said district officials are considering hiring someone who would make sure that Fayette County Schools’ spends its millions of COVID stimulus dollars “in the most efficient way.“

The new superintendent who will be named this summer will likely choose the person to manage federal money, said Helm. Fayette schools previously had a state and federal grants manager who oversaw funds and now that position could be brought back, Helm said.

In the meantime, existing staff will monitor the approximately $155 million in federal stimulus money.

The COVID money has come fairly quickly, Helm said. “This is a lot of additional dollars we didn’t have three months ago.”

“This is almost an unheard-of opportunity and we have to make the most of it,” she said at a Monday school board meeting.

A team of parents, teachers, principals, district leaders and others in Fayette County Schools have been working to determine how COVID money is spent.

“We need to be transparent to our community and to our constituents,” said school board member Stephanie Spires who is on that team. She said the district needs to be good stewards of the money and fiscally responsible.

Board chair Tyler Murphy said the district has to be judicious in how the one-time dollars are spent.

“I just want to be sure we are being transparent with all of the uses,” said board member Amy Green. “At the end of the day I want to make sure the money serves the students.”

Board member Tom Jones said he wanted to ensure that the money was monitored and used so that “our children are not scarred by this pandemic in terms of their development academically.”

He said the most important work the school board has to do is to make sure students come out of the pandemic unscathed.

Helm said district officials will make sure the spending is “legal, transparent and focused.”

One COVID-19 relief funding grant that the district received was for $10.6 million. Of that, $4.5 million went for instruction while students learned from home, $2.6 million for technology, $2.3 million for personal protection equipment and sanitation, $700,000 for transportation, and $570,000 for other COVID costs.

$446,000 was required by the federal government to be given to private schools during COVID.

Fayette County got a second grant of $45.2 million from the federal Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Fund.

The district’s Virtual Learning Academy got $3.2 million of that. $9 million went to this year’s Summer Ignite Program designed to help kids with COVID learning loss, $2.2 million went for an online learning program, food service got $60,000, $1.2 million was spent on HVAC upgrades, $1 million on transportation and $2.4 million on other, indirect costs.

Schools received $24 million to address learning loss equitably among students.

Of the $24 million given to schools, schools got $116 for each student enrolled, $210 for each student experiencing poverty, $507 for each student who was a racial and ethnic minority, $816 for each student who was an English language learner and $989 for each child who had a disability.

The most a school could get was $800,000 and the least $50,000. Each school will submit a plan for how they will spend the money through 2022-2023.

The $45.2 million will help students disproportionately affected by COVID.

The money is to be used to provide emergency aid, overcome barriers created by the coronavirus, and to meet the needs of diverse student groups. That includes students living in poverty, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and children and youth in foster care.

The federal government allows money to be spent for teaching, professional training, software, textbooks and instructional materials, high quality tests, mental health services, help for families and software. The team sent out surveys to see what the school district needed.

Helm said schools will have autonomy with responsibility: “They can’t go out and hire a chef,” she said, but they can go out and do some remarkable things for children who have been impacted by the pandemic.

$2. 2 million was earmarked for emergency leave for staff who had COVID-19, who were caring for family who had COVID, or who needed days off because of COVID. Any left over dollars will be spent on services for students.

A third grant of $101 million will be spent in 2022-2023. Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass said at a Tuesday state meeting that it was part of the largest infusion of funds ever given to public schools in the United States.

So far it’s been determined that $9 million of the $101 million in Fayette County would be spent on summer school for 2022-2023 and $5.3 million on other, indirect costs. District officials don’t yet know what else students will need going forward that is COVID related, Helm said.

The school board is talking about the COVID money now because the school board must submit an overall tentative 2021-22 district budget of about $738 million to the Kentucky Department of Education by May 30.

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