Planning for the yearly budget is a complex process—made even more so this year due to added expenses and federal funding relief, both due to the coronavirus pandemic. At the school board meeting Jan. 13, Greene County Public Schools (GCPS) Superintendent Dr. Andrea Whitmarsh outlined the various federal aid packages that have impacted the upcoming annual budget process.
“I just wanted to remind everybody of the additional funds that we have to deal with the impacts of COVID-19,” Whitmarsh said to the board. “Early on, we received the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act—CARES Act for schools—just over $357,000. I shouldn’t say received because it’s application-based so we have to apply for that money, we have to request that money and then it’s all reimbursable as we spend it.”
The initial CARES Act funding for schools is good through 2022, so the school system has two years in which to apply for reimbursement through this fund.
“We have to apply, get our application approved, and then we have to buy something and then apply to get our money back, so there’s quite a process that goes along with that—just like most federal funds,” Whitmarsh said.
In addition to the federal CARES Act education funds, the CARES Act ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) and GEER (Governor’s Emergency Education Relief) state set-aside funds were made available to schools through a grant program.
“They came from that same initial pot but it was set aside by the state and then the state did grants,” Whitmarsh explained. “These fall in specific areas of special education services and supports, school nutrition, technology, cleaning supplies … and the total is $232,000—that was the update we received in December.”
The ESSER and GEER funds, which must be spent in their specific categories, must also be formally requested on a reimbursement basis after the funds are spent and are also good through 2022.
On Oct. 8, 2020, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced a new allocation of more than $220 million in federal CARES Act money—referred to as the Coronavirus Relief Fund or CRF—to help public schools in the commonwealth with $508,410 going to Greene County Public Schools.
“The CRF funds … were the most similar to the money that the county received in that the money came in and we spent it and then we had to say how we spent it,” Whitmarsh said. “It covers qualifying expenses from March through the end of December.”
As the CRF funds were only good through the end of 2020, this was the first pot of money GCPS utilized in covering necessary COVID-related expenditures. The federal government has since extended the deadline on filing for CRF, but GCPS had already allocated the entirety of the funding.
According to a public records request, within the $508,410 CRF fund allocation, GCPS filed in the following categories:
- Facilitating distance learning: $153,483.88. This includes distribution of devices such as Chromebooks to each student to access online programming as well as cameras, microphones, headphones and new software for teachers.
- Food programs: $7,009. The school system has been distributing meals to families in need every week since the original shutdown of schools in late March 2020.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): $26,401.49. This includes masks, face shields, gloves, hand sanitizer and more.
- Public Health Expenses: $278,961.98. This includes signage, barriers within the school buildings, ion cleaners for the HVAC system, air purifiers, cleaning equipment and supplies, hand sanitizer, thermometers, and extra banks of paid sick leave for employees.
- Unemployment benefits: $32,035.73.
- Other: $10,517.92. This includes legal fees and storage-related costs.
In addition to the categories filed above, GCPS has incurred $59,882.04 in staff leave and $5,790 for the purchase of WiFi hotspots for families for a total of $65,672 that has not yet been claimed for 2020.
On Jan. 12, Whitmarsh received notice of the Coronavirus Response Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (what is being called COVID-5), based on the federal stimulus package passed by Congress on Dec. 27. As part of this new fund, Greene County schools will receive access to an additional allotment of just under $1.5 million—but this fund is expected to last through 2023.
“The important thing to remember with this money is that this goes the longest, so this is the last pot of money that we’ll spend,” Whitmarsh said. “In addition to the previously allowable expenses under the first CARES funds, there are additional allowances including the priority being learning loss for students, administering and using high-quality assessments … to meet the comprehensive needs of students.”
In addition to aiding in the recovery of learning loss due to the pandemic, the new funds can be used in part for needed facility repairs and improvements since the shutdown.
“The learning loss … we’re going to feel it in real time for the next three to five years, so it’s important that we’re very careful and deliberate on how these funds are spent not only because of the requirements but because it has to last us,” Whitmarsh said.