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College Station school district outlines plans for ESSER funds

College Station school district outlines plans for ESSER funds

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The College Station school district is in the process of applying for federal grants to help address learning loss and unexpected costs related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Districts throughout the state have received three sets of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds. For College Station, the total of the three allotments was $20 million, the latest – and largest – coming in March at $12,887,196.

During the June 15 school board workshop, Amy Drozd, chief financial officer for the district, outlined some of the plans for the ESSER III funds, with at least 20% going toward learning loss caused by the pandemic. There are seven grants the district has committed to pursue, she said, and six additional grants district administrators are still considering.

According to the Texas Education Agency, “School systems should use these new funds to respond to the pandemic and to address student learning loss as a result of COVID-19.” The funds can be used for costs incurred between March 2020 and September 2024.

The six areas the district has committed to use the ESSER III funds for are this year’s summer school programs, a reading cohort leader, Reading Academy stipends for elementary school teachers who must use personal time to complete a reading certification process, three new counselors for the district’s intermediate and middle schools, three middle school athletic trainers and two special education staff members.

Other potential uses for the funds are to cover additional tutoring, future summer school programs, additional software, library and instructional materials to address learning loss, professional development, assisting with social and emotional needs of students and families related to the pandemic, technology support, reimbursing the general fund for COVID-related costs and staff retention.

For staff retention, the district is considering a staff retention stipend, Drozd said, adding that specifics could be announced in July.

Staff retention, she said, is something many districts are using the funds for, noting members of all employee groups were critical in safely reopening the schools and retention offers a consistency for campuses, students and families.

The applications are due to TEA by July 24, Drozd said, and she plans to have them submitted by early July.

She said the ESSER II funds – released in December 2020 in the amount of $5.7 million for College Station – also could be used for retention stipends.

Drozd said the first group of ESSER funds – the CARES Act funding – should be spent by the end of August. The $1.4 million was not additional funding for the district, she said, because the district’s state aid was reduced by $1.4 million.

Released in March 2020, the ESSER I funds offset pandemic-related expenditures during the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years. Specifically, the money was used to reimburse the district’s food service fund, to reimburse the general fund for pandemic-related expenses, technology purchases, extra duty pay for teachers who had in-person and online students, additional labor costs and instructional supplies.

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