JSD 117 Working On How To Spend Remaining ESSER Funds

By Benjamin Cox on October 26, 2021 at 1:59pm

Jacksonville School District 117 is now on its third round of funding from the Federal government for COVID-19 pandemic response.

The district received a little over $977,000 from CARES Act funding last year. The majority of the first round went toward teacher stipends for extra hours put in for remote learning, technology, cleaning supplies, and added district healthcare costs. The district has allocated just over $968,000 from that original set of funding.

The next round of funding has come from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, known as ESSER, set aside by Congress for schools in January. In the first round, District 117 received just over $4 million. Just over $1.7 million of that money has been spent on summer school salaries to combat learning loss, wall construction and renovations at Eisenhower Elementary, extra bus driver salaries, and food service costs.

Another round of ESSER Funding came later in the year through the American Rescue Plan. Just over $9.3 million came in this final round from the federal government. Approximately $7.5 million has already been allocated in the current fiscal year of the district with around $616,000 already spent. Allocations have gone toward summer enrichment, curriculum supplements, further technology updates and upgrades, Covid testing supplies, PPE, creation of a parent technology liaison position, portions of the Washington Elementary construction project, window updates at Murryaville-Woodson Elementary, and cleaning supplies.

Superintendent Steve Ptacek says some of the pending money is being looked at to replace carpeting at schools throughout the district: “We are in a wonderful situation to have ESSER Funds that we have to find use for, and we are going to follow what the requirements are. It’s basically around air quality at this point in time. We are trying to find out if replacing carpet, the old carpet in some of our schools – the high school, Eisenhower that’s been in there since 1982. That’s a long time ago. It’s 40 years ago next year. That carpet is old. We have had some people in the past before Covid bring up concerns with air quality based around the carpet. We are making an argument that the condition of ESSER Funds to help increase air quality is being met in that we are going to be able to replace carpet in our schools. We just don’t know if that is going to be approved or not.”

Ptacek says they are also looking at HVAC replacement at particular schools and another creative idea to spend funding: “We are looking at places such as the two gyms at the high school that do not have HVAC to add it to increase that air quality. We are actively looking around the district trying to find those places that fit into that criteria so we can utilize the money to make long-term, long-lasting improvements in the district. I was at a meeting where one of the districts got approved to add a playground area, and it was as an outdoor space, which then gives students the opportunity to take masks off and go outside and air quality is better outdoors. I immediately went to the idea that it’s a creative way to fit within the criteria of the funds that we know would have a lasting impact on our students, so we are exploring that as a possibility.”

Ptacek says that the district is looking for ways to fit within the criteria of the federal programs to spend the money that’s remaining: “We are talking right now for ways for $4 million to be spent. Now, the minute I say that, people will be saying: ‘Well what about cutting this? Cutting that? Cutting etc.’ These are very limited funds and they are ‘use it or lose it.’ We can’t replace other expenditures throughout the district with this money.”

Ptacek brought up during the regular meeting on Wednesday night that some project under the funding had been pulled off the table while the district evaluates Phase III of the Vision 117 plan. Ptacek said it would make sense to spend money while the district is still evaluating the next steps in the long-term goals of the district’s buildings. He said with COVID-19 winding down, a ramp up in community engagement on Vision 117 will beginning happening very soon.