School Board Member Christia Li Roberts in response to our request wrote the following explaining the latest round of funding from the federal government known as ESSER II.

It is quite complicated but very important since it will go to offset specific funding that is being provided to offset the effects of COVID. The federal government is allocating hundreds of millions of dollars to help schools re-open fully.

 

To Martin County Taxpayers Association:

There have been a variety of funding programs (like CARES, GEERS, ESSER, ESSER II) that K-12 public school districts have been able to utilize to address the unexpected costs and consequences of the global pandemic. Each program has specific assurances that must be met, categories that expenses must fall into, and a calendar for when the expense was incurred.

There has been some frustration when funding has been allocated and designated to cover a longer period (like two years) then subsequent reports did not show a huge spend down of those funds in the near term. This was referred to several times by this year’s Florida legislature when legislators were dismayed to find large pots of money unclaimed by districts.

From the other perspective, many districts were attempting to stretch the funds over the two-year period, so it wasn’t surprising that only 25% of funds had been expended when only 25% of the designated time (6 months of the two years) had passed. Some of this money was gathered back for reallocation effectively punching holes in crafted plans. Keep in mind, that prudently this money was handled on a reimbursement method whereby a district needed to incur the expense, pay the bill, then seek reimbursement. For personnel expenses (additional instructional or support staff), employees must work first before payment, so those type expenses truly stretch over a scheduled time period.

Our workshop last evening was to have a meaningful discussion regarding the ESSER II money that is currently being planned for. There was a seventeen-page memo from Florida Department of Education Commissioner Corcoran dated March 16, 2021 with information regarding ESSER II that I have attached for additional detailed information. You can see it here https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/track?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:f9844583-46d0-4984-98d5-104563111496 

In that memo, Martin County was estimated to receive $12 million (pg 16) from ESSER II. Since that date, the legislature has allocated funds from ESSER II to meet various anticipated expenses for K-12 education effectively reducing the amount that will be ultimately distributed. At this time, we anticipate at least a fifty percent reduction, and our best guess is between four and five million dollars that will be available for Martin County. So, these actual numbers are all preliminary and there is still a state of flux until the actual formulas are revealed from Tallahassee.

Yes, charter schools receive a portion of those funds in a manner determined by the Florida Department of Education. Last evening the School Board reviewed and discussed an eighteen-page spreadsheet prepared by Staff regarding ESSER II and priorities. I’ve also attached the Spreadsheet so you can follow along. The Spreadsheet describes each item, indicates the accounting code, details the allowable category, estimates a cost, and then labels the priority. I’ll add some detail on our discussions. You can find it here https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/track?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:23c535e8-d92f-420b-b9c6-3c016c9f9b2d

The first group of funds include an estimate of funding to charter schools; namely $859,211.94 for 1,238 charter students. It’s obvious that this number could be on the high side since basic extrapolation would put $8.59 million for 12,380 students. Knowing that we have more than that number of students and expecting an award amount at half of that $8.59 million, this number would be determined at a later date.

Also included are CARES I allocated projects that have lost their funding source. In here you see teleconferencing licenses (zoom, edgenuity), learning management systems and platforms, professional development for digital instruction, student tutoring and test prep, staff (graduation coaches, paraprofessionals), and student transportation costs to academic events. The Board removed expenses that were for expenses beyond the two-year period to get a better handle on a realistic number. This resulted in a total of $2,482,998.60 as the first batch that would be coming from ESSER II.

Next, we addressed items that had already been approved by the Board for ESSER II funding including summer programming (June 2 – July 1 including the additional $9.25 per hour for employees coming in to address learning losses and credit recovery), data warehousing solutions, and unrecovered salary expenses (where anticipated revenue decreased) adds $1,031,822 to this number bringing us to $3,514,820.60.

Later in our discussions, we added an item on the top of page 6 addressing instructional needs at Port Salerno Elementary which is a challenging population which has been a priority of the Board to address. This involves a plan to add additional licensed teachers in grades 1, 2, and 3 to focus on literacy skills. Expanding the number of teachers in these grade levels from 24 to 30, adding two paraprofessionals to assist the eight Kindergarten teachers and a Prevention Intervention Specialist to serve as an instructional support interfacing between the school and families. The estimated cost of this is $395,000. (Note that this model can be replicated at other schools in the future.)

We also added an item at the top of page 7 splitting out the Pre-K expansion for Port Salerno adding two classes (40 students) with VPK voucher reimbursement bringing the $190,000 cost down to $100,000 to be added. (Note the Warfield piece of this is handled later.) And, we moved the ChalkTalk item on page 15 at a cost of $35,000 because this was Summer programming. This brings the total up to $4,044,820.60 – which is comfortably within the four-to-five-million-dollar range to not have to come back to rehash these later. Obviously, the bulk of these numbers are estimates, but comfortable enough for planning purposes. One other item that we expect to see added to this a future spreadsheet is an estimate of the $9.25 per hour (always to a maximum of $1,000 per employee) for non-bargaining personnel that would meet the same summer requirements as those bargaining unit members.

Pages Four and Five outline Capital expenses (mostly computers and safety/sanitation) totaling $2,604,541.00 which may be eligible for reimbursement. These are expenses that the district has already paid from the Capital Account. If funding comes through these would be paid. If not, they would remain Capital expenses impacting the Capital Account’s Five-Year Plan due to the state at the end of the summer.

Pages Six, Seven and the first item on page Eight are in pink type on a blue background. These are labeled as Priority Five expenses and after adjustment total $606,100 (not the $742,967.00 reflected).

The number has been adjusted removing the Port Salerno Elementary components, adding a Prevention Intervention Specialist to Warfield Elementary School with the K, 1, 2, and 3 staffing expansion plus the VPK addition of 40 students in two classes at Warfield Elementary School, and moving the Apptegy item on page 7 to page 8 to be with the Let’s Talk item.

There is another exciting item on the bottom of page 6 currently labeled Calculus Project (but soon to be re-labeled as Algebra Project). The Calculus Project was an initiative in several districts to encourage minority students to enter STEM career fields thinking that passing the Algebra I in Middle School would create the opportunity to take Calculus in High School and pave the way for a STEM career.

Unfortunately, that result was often unrealized (often because of a lack of a mentor for the student). However, the process of utilizing summer math programming for students that need extra help between fifth grade and sixth grade creates the opportunity to complete Algebra I in Middle School. With that Algebra I EOC (end of course exam) completed before entering High School removes one of the graduation requirements from the stress of High School and allows students in High School to focus on opportunities and personal interests without that looming over their head. The rest of the items in this group include a school psychologist, teacher professional development and resources, and accounting staff. These are all items that would normally be in the General Fund (Operating Account) but would be slated as the next group to apply to ESSER II funding.

Pages Eight to Fourteen with black type on the blue background are General Fund (Operating Account) items that would come next. This includes student instructional resources, AVID training, additional CTE programming, communication/customer service/accountability platforms, mental health programs, and teacher assistance solutions.

There was discussion regarding an item on page 8 for the Pandemic Health Services Manager that is identified as a watch/hold (so that we don’t fill a position that may be unnecessary). These all come together as the next group for ESSER II funding or revert to the General Fund (Operating Account) if funding doesn’t come through from ESSER II. This group of items will be woven into the 2021-22 Operating Budget that the Board has been working on for the last three months at Budget Workshops.

Pages Fifteen through Eighteen plus the items for the 2022-23 school year from page 2 and without the ChalkTalk that was moved are department/staff requests that are being gathered here in one place but need additional vetting and discussion before moving forward.

It is immensely satisfying to have such meaningful and detailed information to make prudent and logical fiscal decisions. The level of transparency and engagement far surpasses what I have seen in other districts and in the past here in Martin County. I am thankful and humbled by the work of our staff and the compilation and presentation by our Chief Financial Officer Carter Morrison. If you or any of your readers have any questions regarding this information, please feel free to contact me.

Thanks again for the opportunity to share.

Christia Li Roberts
Martin County School Board Member, District One

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