The school board at the Forest Park elementary schools reviewed a plan for spending remaining federal stimulus funds during its Aug. 11 meeting.
All three COVID-19 federal stimulus funding packages included money for schools that were distributed through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. District 91 already spent its ESSER 1 funds – the money that came from Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the first stimulus package. In order to spend the funding from the remaining two stimulus packages, it is required to release the plans in a public meeting and give residents the opportunity to comment. The Illinois State Board of Education then either approves or denies the plan. ESSER II funds must by committed by September 2023 and ESSER III funds must be committed by September 2024.
District 91 proposes spending the money to help pay for summer school, student tutoring and other support services. The money would also go toward improving air conditioning at Field-Stevenson, 925 Beloit Ave., and Grant-White, 147 Circle Ave., elementary school buildings, replacing student Chromebooks and other devices, and funding for teacher training and “parent university” certification programs. While the board members didn’t object to the plan overall, they did ask the district administrators to come back with a more detailed breakdown of how the money would be spent and how many expenses are directly related to the effects of the pandemic.
According to the presentation by Dr. Robert Hubbird, assistant superintendent of finance and operations, the district spent $186,259 in ESSER I funds to cover salaries for summer school teachers and instructional assistants, to pay for technology to facilitate remote learning, cover the cost of subscriptions to online remote learning services, and to pay for cleaning supplies and Personal Protection Equipment.
Hubbird said that, for $703,107 in ESSER II funds, the district plans to spend $75,825 to buy 116 replacement Chromebooks, $390,280 to continue paying the four instructional coaches the district hired to address learning loss, a total of $127,000 to cover summer school and afterschool “extended learning opportunities” for students, and a total of $110,000 to improve air conditioning.
“When I spoke to our superintendent of buildings and grounds, [he said] there are still some AC units that need to be repaired,” Hubbird said.
Kyra Tyler, school board president, said that while Grant-White isn’t being used as a school starting this, 2022-2023 school year, the district still plans on using the building for another purpose, but didn’t elaborate any further. The Review previously asked the district what the building would be used for but hasn’t received a reply by deadline.
Hubbird told the board that the district is still working out the details of what “extended learning opportunities” the district will offer, but he used a possible collaboration with the Forest Park Theater as an example.
For around $1.58 million in ESSER III funds, the district plans to spend a total of $201,654 on replacing 232 Chromebooks, tablets and other devices. Hubbird said that, given the 3-4 year life cycle of those devices, as well as the greater use they got during the pandemic, some replacement is inevitable. He also mentioned that the funding could be used to buy security cameras.
A total of $197,000 will be spent to continue summer school and extended learning programs. It would use $611,280 to hire additional coaches and social workers, as well as cover eight days of staff professional development. $75,000 would go toward mentoring and tutoring, and $125,000 would be used to help implement a STEM curriculum for all grade levels.
A total of $255,741 would be used to pay for cleaning and PPE related expenses, with $110,741 of that going toward the salaries of two additional cleaning staff who were hired in the wake of the pandemic.
Finally, $87,639 will be used for staff development and “parent university” – free certification courses offered to all district parents. Hubbird said that it could include Microsoft program certifications and C++ programming certification.
Board secretary Monique Cotton-Yancy said that she appreciated that the district wants to spend money on training teachers to tutor and support students, noting that many parents simply can’t afford private tutoring services.
[This way] you can just send kids to public school,” she said. “It’s amazing, it’s awesome, and I’m happy to see it budgeted.”