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Licking R-VIII to meet on ESSER-III fund expenditures

Photo by Shari Harris
Last week, the old trailers were removed to make room for new modular classrooms purchased with ESSER II funds.


By Shari Harris, Publisher

The Licking R-VIII School District will host a meeting in the FEMA building on Monday, July 12, at 7 p.m. All patrons are invited to attend. Future capital expenditures for the district related to ESSER-III funds will be discussed.

The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund is financial support provided by Congress. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March 2020, included $13 billion in ESSER funds (ESSER I). An additional $54 billion was funded in December 2020, through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act (ESSER II). More recently, in March of this year, the American Rescue Plan (ARP) allocated another $122 billion for ESSER III.

ESSER I funds, combined with Texas County CARES Act funds and relief funds from the governor were primarily utilized by the school district in the spring semester of 2020. Expenditures included a bus to improve social distancing; personal protective equipment, including gloves and masks; plexiglass, signage and sanitizing equipment; and technological equipment including hot spots and Chromebooks, Chrome carts, and an updated security system and phone system. A Chromebook is now available for each student in grades 3 through 12. The new technology will allow for virtual schooling, improved contact tracing and reduced need for travel of individuals throughout the buildings.

The largest single expenditure from the ESSER II funds by the district is the new elementary modular buildings. Other projects are also underway or planned. Windows that would no longer open and damaged doors will be replaced. The elementary library is being renovated to improve social distancing. The HVAC system is being upgraded to include medical filters. A four-door sedan (four-cylinder to improve fuel efficiency) was purchased. The board hopes to also be able to address the HVAC issues on the secondary campus.

The district is eligible to receive $3.2 million in ESSER III funds. One requirement for the ESSER III funding is that the district share safety protocols related to contagious diseases, which will be posted by June 23 and will be shared at the meeting. Another requirement is the district has to gather feedback from stakeholders regarding ESSER III expenditures, which will be the core discussion at the July 12 meeting. The district will present initial thoughts regarding allocating the funds.

Twenty percent of the ESSER III funds (about $650,000) must be set aside to offset setbacks from school closure. Licking R-VIII Superintendent Cristina Wright shared the district’s plan for these funds. The district plans for remediation of academic deficits through new textbooks, electronic assessment tools to track students’ progress, the use of elementary and secondary teaching coaches (or instructional coaches) to optimize teaching strategies, tutoring and after-school programs, and mental health support.

Supt. Wright shared the long-range goal for the remaining 80 percent of the funds; to increase square footage. Options being discussed include: expand the elementary cafeteria on the west side; add a high school/junior high cafeteria onto the west side of the Fieldhouse, and construct an enclosed hallway between the Science Building and the Fieldhouse, depending on construction costs. As this would decrease parking, an option of taking down the tan house on Maple St. (currently not able to be rented; requires substantial repairs due to previous tenants) and moving the buses and bus barn to that location would increase FEMA parking. Removing the white house on the corner of 137 and College Street would provide more high school parking. These options would spread the funds between both campuses.

All are encouraged to attend the meeting to hear full details and to provide feedback.

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