BEAUFORT — All Carteret County public school employees will receive a $500 stipend thanks to federal funds provided to school systems to help with impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
The county school system will receive about $20 million in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Stabilization, or ESSERS, funds over the next three years, according to Superintendent Dr. Rob Jackson.
During the County Board of Education meeting, held Tuesday in the school system’s central office on Safrit Drive, Dr. Jackson said the system already received the first $1.65 million allotment earlier in the school year. Those funds must be spent by Friday, Sept. 30, 2022.
“We should have all of those funds spent by the end of this school year,” he said.
That money was used to purchase personal protective equipment and digital resources, hire contract nurses and for a learning management system. Although not part of the ESSERS allotment, the school system also received $3.3 million in state funds to assist with needs created by the pandemic.
Dr. Jackson said he was recently notified the system is set to receive $6.1 million as part of a second allotment of ESSERS II funds and another $13.83 million in a third wave of ESSERS III funds. All funds must be used to offset impacts of the pandemic.
He said administration must submit a budget on how the ESSERS II funds will be spent to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction by Sunday, May 9. The money must be spent by September 2023. As for the third wave of money, Dr. Jackson didn’t say when that spending plan must be submitted. He did say the funds must be spent by 2024, and 20% of that money must be used to address “learning loss.”
The superintendent and his staff are currently developing a budget plan for how the $6.1 million in ESSERS II money will be spent. He presented a long list of items being considered and invited board members to give suggestions. He plans to present a finalized budget proposal for board approval at the Tuesday, May 4 meeting.
Among the items being considered was the $500 stipend for all employees, which board members enthusiastically endorsed. Member Dennis Goodwin made the motion to go ahead and approve the stipend as part of the spending plan.
“Because they have six more weeks of school and they have all worked tirelessly, we want them to know now how much we appreciate them,” Mr. Goodwin said.
Brittany Wheatly agreed and provided the second, with the motion passing unanimously.
The total cost of providing the $500 stipend to all employees is $711,315. That includes the matching Social Security and retirement costs.
There are many things to consider as the board decides on the other items for the second wave of spending, Dr. Jackson said.
First, the six-week summer learning program that will be offered to students in grades kindergarten through 12 is mandatory, he pointed out.
“We have been instructed to use ESSERS funds for the six-week summer program,” he said.
Other suggestions he and an administrative planning team are considering include funding a two-year Chromebook replacement program at an estimated cost of $2.7 million, a math curriculum support program at $326,778, another curriculum support program known as Fundations at $80,000, reduce class sizes in grades four through 12, add additional teacher assistants and eliminate teacher assistant furlough days required each year.
Other possibilities include additional guidance counselors for middle and high schools, additional exceptional children’s teachers, additional academically and intellectually gifted instructors, a director and teachers for a virtual learning program, behavioral support specialists and air ionizers.
Dr. Jackson cautioned board members that the ESSERS funds are nonrecurring and if they hire additional personnel with those funds, they need to keep in mind they will eventually run out.
Board member Travis Day agreed.
“I love the idea of reducing class sizes and adding instructional staff, but how do we tackle keeping personnel after the funds run out?” he said.
Dr. Jackson said he has considered two options for how to deal with staff hires. First, the system could hire them under contract. Second, they could keep them as employees as other personnel retire and resign.
He added that it would be important to maintain clear communication with county commissioners, because while the school system will have additional funds for a certain time, that money won’t replace the other needs of the district provided through county funding.
Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.