STARKVILLE — Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District will receive another $15 million in federal funds to address needs and issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
SOCSD was recently allocated a third installment of the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief of $15,340,984. That brings the total SOCSD has received through the ESSER program to nearly $24 million since March.
The school district fronts the funds for ESSER-approved functions and submits reports to the federal government for reimbursement.
Through a virtual press conference Thursday, Assistant Superintendent and Director of Federal Programs, Special Education and Preschool Anna Guntharp indicated what these funds will be used for and how they will help the district get back on track after the pandemic.
ARP enacted the ESSER fund in March to provide states and school districts the funds needed to sustain safe operation within schools and address the impact of COVID-19 on students across the United States.
Much of the funding will be used for building upgrades across the district to help create a cleaner learning environment for students.
“We plan to do HVAC and mechanical upgrades to improve air quality,” Guntharp said. “We plan to repair and replace windows to improve that air quality and upgrade and renovate restroom facilities to include touchfree systems.”
The aid also is funding particular Elementary and Secondary Education Act programs such as low-income assistance, teacher training and enhancement and gifted student funding. More than $4 million will address learning loss from students affected by the pandemic.
A large portion of the relief also will fund programs related to special education. “Interventionalists” have been hired to assist students who have disabilities, including positions that will address dyslexia.
“We’ve added some training districtwide and are continuing to expand that with some intervention programs which are designed to address students with dyslexia,” Guntharp said. “We have some interventionists in place and some of those will be working with some of those students.”
Another $4 million of ESSER III will finance specific teacher salaries throughout the district, allowing SOCSD to save that money and allocate it for other needs.
“Part of these plans for ESSER ARP funds includes some salary positions that will be moved from district-funded positions to ESSER III ARP funded for the next two years,” Guntharp said.
Guntharp said discussion for the fund allocations began at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. Through a team of directors and principals, they held meetings with each department and administrative team across the district and issued surveys to parents and teachers, determining what items were most essential at helping students return safely to school.
“Some of those things helped us look districtwide on what some of those needs were,” Guntharp said. “I would say it has been challenging, but with the help of a lot of people willing to sit down and come to the table and us have those meetings, that’s made it a lot easier.”
Guntharp said they were “scrambling” to find resources to get schools what they needed to come back after the shutdown and used much of the aid on cleaning and nursing supplies, masks and screening tools that take individuals’ temperatures. ESSER II primarily addressed learning loss, and she said ESSER III is a continuation of that.
The district received more than $8.5 million in ESSER I ($1,749,923) and ESSER II ($6,830,790).
“Those funds really were used to help us initially to help us reopen school as safely as possible,” Guntharp said.