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Schools getting a big share of COVID relief funds

By

Bob Bong

School

districts throughout the southwest suburbs stand to gain millions of dollars

from the COVID relief packages passed in response to the pandemic.

Local

school districts are set to receive over $100 million in relief, state Sen.

Steve Landek (D-Bridgeview) announced Monday.

“Now

that the end of the pandemic finally seems to be in sight, this new funding

will help local schools move forward into a brighter future,” Landek said.

“Local teachers, schools and students have put up with so much during the pandemic,

and it’s great that they’re getting some support for their hard work going

forward.”

The

latest rounds of relief stems from the relief package passed late last year and

the $1.9 trillion American Recovery Act championed by President Joe

Biden.Ê

The

first batch of COVID relief for schools was called ESSER, which stands for

Elementary and Secondary School Relief Fund, which was created as part of the

CARES Act relief package passed a year ago.Ê

ESSER

I money was handed out last year and was primarily used by districts to

purchase PPE to make schools safer for staff and students.Ê

Indian

Springs District 109 and Argo District 217, for example, used the ESSER I funds

to buy sanitizers and facemasks and to purchase ultraviolet light emitters, which

kills the coronavirus.

“We

were able to buy one UV emitter that is portable and that we move around from

building to building,” said SD 109 Supt. Blair Nuccio. “We have seven campuses,

so we’d like to have one for each building.”Ê

At

Argo High School, administrators said they had implemented a number of safety

procedures including placing hand sanitizer in all rooms, entryways and

hallways, buying 45,000 masks and face shields for students and staffers,

mounting ultraviolet lights to disinfect surfaces and the air, and creating

one-way hallways.

At

School District 229, Asst. Supt. Joe McCurdy said, “The district utilized the

ESSER I funds to support our remote and hybrid learning needs. The money was

used to purchase iPads, laptop computers, and software that supported staff

members to teach remotely. The district also purchased personal protection

equipment for students and staff members along with cleaning equipment and

supplies.”

The

two more recent rounds of relief are known as ESSER II and ESSER III.

Lyons

School District 103 Supt. Kristopher Rivera said the newest portion coming to

the district is a bit over an estimated $4 million. That brings the total it

should receive to $6.4 million after three rounds of relief.

The

district received $500,000 in the first funding and about $1.9 million in the

second funding, he said.

One

thing on their minds is how they can get students safely back in the school

buildings, Rivera said, noting that 20 percent of the $4 million “has to be

spent on learning loss.”

“It

has to be coupled with a return to in-person learning plan for the community to

review and have a public comment period,” Rivera said.

There’s

no timetable for when the funding will arrive, he said.

“We’re

trying to think of stages instead of blasting all the money out because we

don’t know what’s around the corner,” Rivera said.

“We

definitely are looking at air quality considerations with our HVAC units,” he

said. “Of course, there are learning loss initiatives.”

One

learning expenditure they are planning on is $200,000 for an in-person summer

school program that starts in July.

“It’s

things like summer programs, after-school programs, maybe extending the

(school) day, maybe extending the school year,” Rivera said. “Those are all

allowable. What we’re doing now is discuss what might be the best use of that

money.”

Upgrades

in technology like desktop computers is being considered, he said.

“Again,

we’re in baby stages right now. We’re just throwing ideas out,” Rivera said.

“We’re likely to make a big wish list and then scale back, say what are the

more necessary items in the near future, just in case we get a curve ball

thrown (at us). Who knows?”

Rivera

said the district officials want to careful of jumping on a fad, noting as an

example new reports from the CDC that indicate the coronavirus may not spread

as easily from surfaces as had been thought before.

“One

thing I want to be really careful of is not jumping on the next bandwagon,

dropping $1 million on something that in three years is obsolete,” he

said.

Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 stands to

receive another $1 million, bringing its total to roughly $1.48 million.

Supt. Kevin Skinkis said Tuesday the first two payments were

spent on additional custodial and maintenance services, along with PPE

supplies.

“We (also) kept all our paraprofessionals and security staff

employed full-time,” Skinkis said. “This new money is what we’re starting to

plan out now.”

Possible spending could be for the hiring additional staff,

or full-time employees, “to make sure that class sizes can manageable under the

new guidelines so we can still do the three-foot social distancing.”

More paraprofessionals may be hired to accommodate additional

special education students, Skinkis said.

“We’re (also) looking at waiving all the costs related to

summer school,” he said.

Skinkis said there is no date when Riverside-Brookfield can

expect the third payment to arrive.

“They’re saying sometime in Fiscal Year 2022, so we’re hoping

next fiscal year at some point,” he said. “We’re trying to be creative, but at

the same time responsible in the event the payments are delayed.”Ê

ESSER

II funds are coming from the COVID relief package passed at the end of 2020.

ESSER III funds will be coming from the American Rescue Plan.

ESSER

II funding can be used for the same things as ESSER I, namely to addressing

learning loss, preparing schools for reopening, and testing, repairing, and

upgrading projects to improve air quality in school buildings.

Districts

apply to the Illinois State Board of Education, which controls the money.

Districts should receive their ESSER II funds sometime this summer.

“The

district will use ESSER II funds to support instructional and technology needs

that allow staff to provide remote instruction if needed,” McCurdy said. “We

will also use the funds to assistant students who need further instructional

intervention or enrichment by offering summer school classes, Saturday

intervention sessions, and after-school programs.”

Willow Springs School District 108 Supt. Frank Patrick detailed

his district had plans for its $393,748inESSER II money.

“We

plan to run a robust summer school program and are exploring afterschool

programs for the fall to provide opportunities to fill in the academic gaps

created by this pandemic school year. We’re also looking at enhancing our

student and teacher technology. Finally, we’re looking at the efficacy of

our air handling systems.”

At Summit District 104, set to

receive $2.2 millionin ESSER II money,Supt. Troy Whelan said, “We are still

in the planning and application process. The application will include

HVAC upgrades and measures to address the instructional needs of our

students.”

Nuccio said District 109 will use its $3.9 million in ESSER

II money for summer school and after-school programs, as well as tutoring programs.Ê

Whelan said he hopes to have his ESSER II projects approved

by the end of May.Ê

The last COVID relief package, the American Rescue Plan, is

expected to be the biggest for local school districts.

ÊESSER III provides $122.7 billion for schools. Districts will

be required to spend at least 20 percent of its money on learning loss. But beyond that, school

districts can use the money to address many different issues and costs. For

example, it can be used to better equip schools for safe learning, to prevent

layoffs, to address students’ social and emotional needs, to fund summer

programs, or to ensure all students have access to reliable Wi-Fi and

technology.Ê

Local districts don’t have firm numbers yet, but the

expectations are huge and when combined with ESSER II funds the totals are, in

some cases, staggering.Ê

For example, Morton School District 201 is set to receive

$8.7 in ESSER II funds and another $19.5 million from ESSER III for a total of

$28.3 million. Indian Springs District 109 is going to receive $3.9 million

under ESSER II and is in line for another $8.8 million from ESSER III for a

total of $12.7 million.Ê

Other districts will receive a fraction of that amount.

Riverside-Brookfield District 208, for example, is set to receive a combined

total of only $1.4 million.Ê

In total, Illinois will have

received more than $7 billion from the three packages to support local school

districts.

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