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Richland halfway through covid funds

The Richland School District received over $11 million in covid recovery funds, given to schools nationwide to help them recover from the pandemic. Earlier this summer, the district said it had spent a little over $2 million of the allotted money, with a September 2024 deadline to spend the rest or forfeit the remainder..

Since then, the district has moved quickly to allocate the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund grant, spending 48% – almost $5 million in total – to date, according to Finance Director Martin Rodriguez.

Superintendent Rosa Romero explained that, the first priority was getting kids back into the classroom safely, which meant doing major work on their air conditioning systems.

“With the age and condition of our HVAC systems, it would not have been possible to bring our kids back to school in a safe environment,” Romero said.

This meant that much of the initial spending was on system improvements, which would bring the district up to date and able to bring the students back in a safe environment.

The school district also surveyed community members, giving them a chance to have input on their top priorities in how to spend the money. At the top of that list was improving indoor air quality in the different schools, taking a 20% priority. Another top item was replacing old carpets and tiles, as well as building repairs and improvements to minimize environmental health hazards.

The district, Romero said, also has spent money on additional summer school programs, as well as providing additional tutoring.

She also said that during the time in which students were required to learn remotely, students were equipped with their own devices to take home to do their work. When the students came back to school, students kept their devices and used them to work at home. “Every child who wants one has their own device at home to do homework and classwork on. We even provide them with their own wifi hot spot so they can connect to the network and do their work from home without cost to the students or families. “There are a lot of families in our district that don’t have access to their own Wifi network, so having this available helps all of our students and families make progress in their educational work,” Romero said .

Currently, the district has spent $4.8 million of the allotted $11 million that they have received. Each expenditure has to be approved by their school board, as well as meet guidelines put up by the state that makes sure the funds are used in a proper manner.

When asked if they had hired additional teachers with the funds, Rodriguez said, “This is where a lot of school districts are getting into trouble. This is a one-time gift of monies, while hiring teachers is an ongoing expense, which does not work with our district. Some of the districts are now faced with hits on their budgets when having to account for extra teachers’ salaries going forward. We have been smart with our money and have not put ourselves in a position that we will be facing extra costs when the money is no longer there.”

She said that anyone who is interested in what the district is spending the money on or how much, they can go to the district’s website and look under ESSER funding. There are reports and plans on what the funds will be earmarked for and where the money is coming from.

 

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