LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Jefferson County Public Schools expects to spend millions more than it will receive from the $2.2 trillion federal stimulus meant to help school districts cope with the effects of closing due to COVID-19.
The Jefferson County Board of Education heard a report Tuesday in which district leaders outlined at least $35.3 million in expenses and anticipated costs attributed to the novel coronavirus pandemic, not including plexiglass dividers listed at $74.33 each in board documents.
On top of that, JCPS expects to lose $10.1 million in occupational tax receipts by June 30, the end of the fiscal year, because of the COVID-19 shutdown, board documents say.
Chief Financial Officer Cordelia Hardin said the district has applied for Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement to help cover expenses. She also emphasized that the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act is one-time funding from the federal government.
"There is no way the CARES funding itself will cover all of the costs that we are going to experience because there’s going to be probably additional staffing costs in order to do some of the sanitation as well as additional equipment or sanitation materials that we’re going to need,” she said.
Although Kentucky’s largest school district received nearly $35.6 million from the CARES Act, more than 16% will be sent to area private schools per state and federal guidance that some have criticized because those schools will receive funding based on overall enrollments rather than the numbers of Title I students at those institutions. Title I funds are intended for schools with high shares of students in poverty.
That $5.8 million deduction leaves JCPS with $29.7 million in stimulus funding, which is combined from two sources.
Money from the Governor’s Emergency Educational Relief fund can cover expenses related to remote learning and emergency food service, while the much larger Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief fund provides greater spending flexibility for districts.
Providing disposable masks for nearly $12.3 million is the largest item on the district’s spending list. Gov. Andy Beshear is scheduled to present the state’s “Healthy at School” reopening guidance during a news conference Wednesday, and state officials have said students will be expected to wear masks in school buildings at times when social distancing isn’t possible.
Pollio told the board that the district’s reopening plan will be ready for JCPS families by mid-July.
Thermometers are other big-ticket items listed under personal protective equipment. The district anticipates spending nearly $4.8 million on disposable thermometers and $565,245 for no-contact infrared thermometers.
Technology also presents significant cost for JCPS, which plans to spend $8.2 million for 30,000 new Chromebooks, $3.3 million for virtual learning software, $2.1 million for network infrastructure and security, and $1.4 million to add nine months of data for the 6,000 T-Mobile hotspots distributed during nontraditional instruction.
In all, the district estimates spending $15.5 million for technology, according to Tuesday’s presentation. Districts have been directed by the Kentucky Department of Education to plan for short, medium and long-term closures during the 2020-21 school year if there are COVID-19 outbreaks in their communities.
If 35% of the roughly 22,000 Chromebooks distributed to students, most of them either in low-income families or with special needs, either break or are lost as assumed by JCPS, that will leave the district with 16,250 units already distributed. In addition to the 30,000 Chromebooks to be purchased and the 35,000 instructional devices already in schools, that will leave 81,250 devices at the district’s disposal.
As JCPS transitioned to nontraditional instruction on April 7 following Beshear’s recommendation to close in hopes of limiting the spread of COVID-19, the district incurred $1.8 million in costs.
Most of that money was spent on technology, with $871,200 spent on purchasing T-Mobile hotspots and $545,200 used for shipping Chromebooks. JCPS spent $347,072 to print and distribute paper nontraditional instruction materials, according to Tuesday’s board presentation.
While JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio and other school leaders throughout Kentucky have said they plan to resume in-person instruction at the start of the 2020-21 school year, Jefferson County Board of Education members Chris Brady and Linda Duncan expressed concerns about having students return with the threat of COVID-19 looming.
In fact, Brady said he couldn’t see how schools could allow students to return to schools without instantaneous COVID-19 testing or a vaccine.
“It’s going to take a while for a vaccine to be developed,” Brady said. “… I don’t see instantaneous testing coming any time soon.”
“Honestly as a parent, I’m not sure if I’d be comfortable with my children in a classroom without there being some type of vaccine or instantaneous testing,” he said.
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