The economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic is jeopardizing budgets across all levels of government, right down to public schools.
Fortunately for School District 51, some help is on the way that could account for lost funds and provide resources for coronavirus-related expenses.
Colorado school districts will share $121 million in funds from the $3.1 billion Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, which was part of the first federal CARES Act stimulus package.
Mesa County will receive the ninth-highest allocation in the state, with local schools receiving $3,409,529.
Those funds can go toward any issues the district chooses. The only caveat is that some of those dollars are required to be invested in charter schools, such as Independence Academy, Juniper Ridge and Mesa Valley Community School.
District leaders will otherwise determine how the money will affect local schools. The extra funds don’t mean that some cost-cutting measures won’t stay in place.
“We’ve actually been working on this for some time because we obviously anticipated that we would have a reduction in our funds for next year, so we already had instituted a hiring pause on positions, so each and every position will be carefully scrutinized as to whether any open positions are filled at all,” said Superintendent Diana Sirko. “If we have an administrative district-level position come open, we’d have to look very carefully about whether that one will be filled. We’ll really prioritize jobs that are closest to the classroom level, wherever possible, for any positions that may be filled. We do have some staff retiring, and we’re looking at each and every one of those to determine whether to fill those positions.”
In addition to that $3.4 million, the district has already received approximately $11 million as part of another federal aid package. Those dollars have to go into expenses related to the coronavirus.
Sirko is waiting on further instructions from the Colorado Department of Education before she and board members discuss allocation options. She expects those education department guidelines to be fleshed out early next week.
The second CARES Act funds have to be allocated by the end of December.
“It’s really about preparing us for COVID-related expenses, getting ready for school next fall, so that will help us if we have to do some kind of hybrid learning where part of our curriculum is in school and part of it is online or remote,” Sirko said. “
The remote instructions, preparing the staff as well as actually trying to help families with their internet by installing boosters and things like that … Some of that we can use for this summer. Some of our summer school pieces we’ve reduced, but we’ll have some students working on distance reading skills during the summer.”