SKSD budget proposal includes federal ESSER monies

Funding will go to remedy ‘learning loss’ from the COVID-19 pandemic

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PORT ORCHARD — On the heels of a new school year, South Kitsap School District is preparing its 2021-22 budget, which includes federal funding to combat the effects that COVID-19 has had on schools.

This funding will go toward support staff, supply purchasing and infrastructure improvements, with the goal of making up for learning loss while continuing to provide a safe and healthy environment for students and staff.

During the pandemic, public schools received federal dollars through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, known as ESSER. In her presentation of the 2021-22 South Kitsap School District budget, Jennifer Farmer, assistant superintendent of business and operations, explained how the district plans to use these funds.

With three rounds of ESSER funding authorized, the district has already spent ESSER I for a total of $1,517,377 on computers, personal protective equipment and other expenses related to the pandemic. A complete breakdown of the expenditures can be seen in the budget presentation, on the district website at skschools.org under the district and school board tabs in the meeting agenda.

ESSER II and ESSER III funding amounts are $5,865,513 and $13,173,000, respectively. While Farmer explained that there were no spending stipulations on ESSER I or II, 20% of ESSER III must go toward “learning loss” activities.

“We believe that the federal ESSER dollars are intended for and best invested in our return from the COVID-19 pandemic to support our students,” Farmer said. “These monies are so appreciated to support this unprecedented situation, and we intend to invest them in programs that support our students and in the facilities that keep our students safe, warm and dry.”

Approximately $12 million of general fund expenditures for the coming school year is provided by the remaining ESSER funding. The general fund expenditures increased by 11.7% in comparison to fiscal year 2020-21, partially due to these funding capabilities.

Farmer said $5 million of this funding will go toward staff support for students: learning support teachers, social workers and paraeducators. This represents a mix of new staff and retention of current staff.

Other areas the ESSER funding will address are purchasing more learning materials so students won’t have to share supplies, more furniture for proper distancing, personal protective equipment and other supplies as needed, Farmer said.

“​​We are doing our best to make sure that we can have distancing and the other equipment that is needed as we bring students back,” Farmer said.

Also, the district created an assistant director of Health Services position to oversee COVID-19 pandemic protocols and response, which was filled by a nurse from the district, Farmer said. Infrastructure projects such as HVAC and roofing improvements to increase airflow are also budgeted within ESSER funding.

During the board meeting, director John Berg asked how much of the ESSER funding will be dedicated to summer school next year. Farmer replied that this will be determined after the district sees how much of the summer school costs this year comes from ESSER funding. She estimated it could be in the neighborhood of $1 million.

The draft budget can be found on the district website, skschools.org.

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