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Princeton School District 477 faces more than $1 million in unexpected COVID-19 pandemic costs. 

School Board members received an analysis of those expenses and revenues sources that are available as offsets during an August work session.

Business Services Director Michelle Czech reported Aug. 18 school officials had been considering using some of the district’s fund balance to cover its COVID-19 expenses, but the release of additional state funding provided financial resources.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act includes education stabilization.

The Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) are CARES-related funding. Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF) are also part of the CARES Act.

Those funds were given to state, local and tribal governments to address and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of the $150 billion available, Minnesota received about 2.2 billion.

The Minnesota Department of Education received $244.8 million to support getting children back to school while prioritizing students and staff safety.

GEER funding can be used for expanding technology capacity to meet student learning needs, with particular attention to increasing broadband access, establishing wireless hotspots and purchasing laptops or tablets.

ESSER funds include a formula-based allocation and state grants. Districts and charter schools have been notified of eligibility for these funding streams.

Local Budget Analysis

Czech reported these COVID-19 revenue sources during the school board’s Aug. 18 work session: GEER $110,000 (March 2020 to September 2022); ESSR $310,000 (March 2020 to September 2022); CRF $831,589 (July 2020 to December 2020).

“The last time we were here, we potentially talked about using some of our fund balance,” Czech told the board. “Tonight, we are not going to dive into that. We knew about the GEER and ESSR funding, and we knew there was some kind of state funding. They announced that on Aug. 11, and it’s $831,589 for our district.” Czech’s budget analysis also assigned a chronology next to those numbers.

“The GEER and ESSR have wonderful timeframes, which basically gives you the 2021-22 school year,” she told board members. CRF deadlines are tighter.

Expenses Are Detailed

Board Chair Eric Strandberg asked how the funding worked, and if it involved reimbursement dollars.

Czech said the district would be able to use the CRF funding for whatever was needed in term of expenses related to COVID-19.

Czech identified July to December, January to June, and yearly totals for these district COVID-19 expense categories: Transportation, Buildings and Grounds, Health and Safety, Teaching and Learning, Technology, and Food Service.

The Princeton district is facing an additional $328,000 in COVID-19 transportation costs associated with providing tiered busing, Czech reported.

Palmer Bus Service maintains 68 vehicles and employs more than 70 employees who provide service to Princeton schools.

The district encompasses 235 square miles. Students in grades K-5 are being bussed separately from grades 6-12 in a tiered format.

Students in grades PK-5 have bus passes and are seated two per seat and families may have up to three to a seat. Tier two students ride at 50% of bus capacity.

Students are loading back to front (in the morning) regardless of age. They have assigned seats, Czech explained. Siblings are sitting together as much as possible. Students are going directly to their assigned seats in the afternoon.

Bus Service Estimate

“Right now, for pre-kindergarten through fifth, we are going to try and keep it two students to a seat as much as possible,” she said. “If we have to go to three to a seat, it will be family members. There’s lots of changes with tiered busing.”

Palmer Bus Service Manager Trace Johnson had estimated the transportation company would be charging the district a dollar a mile and salary for its drivers, Czech said.

“This is an estimate,” she said. “If we need all 28 buses on the second tier, it would be a yearly cost of $328,000. Board Member Jim Tomsky asked how that figure compared. “Is it a whole lot more? Is it double the expense?” he asked.

Czech said regular busing services Princeton district $1.3 million annually. That budget figure does not include special education or other transportation. “This [new amount] will be on top of that,” she added. Tiered busing qualifies for CRF.

Building & Grounds

COVID-19 building and grounds expenses include adding two people to clean the district’s primary and intermediate schools ($74,198 yearly), changing air filters and purchasing electrostatic sprayers ($10,000 each yearly), and purchasing disinfectant, wipes, and sanitizer ($8,206) annually. Czech detailed those costs.

“Because our primary and intermediate students will be having breakfast and lunch in their classrooms, we are going to need cleaners,” she said. “We are not hiring custodians. What they are going to be doing is going around and grabbing garbage, and spraying down all of our main areas as quickly throughout the day.”

Czech said the district has received questions about its heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems. Although much remains unknown about COVID-19, scientists have established it is highly contagious and transmitted via air.

“We are going to change to a different filter based upon recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Filters are expensive,” she said.

Furthermore, the district will purchase an electrostatic sprayer for the night crews to use in each of those buildings. The sprayers cost about $2,000 apiece.

“That will help speed up disinfecting, Czech said. “There are things classroom teachers will have to do outside of their normal task list to keep things sanitized.”

Health & Safety Costs

Health and safety costs with COVID-19 primarily involve district nursing services. Czech said personal protective equipment and thermometers were expected costs, but the Princeton district will need to hire a health paraprofessional.

This person will be located in the Family Center so that District School Nurse Nicole Wyganowski can respond as needed.

Purchasing additional hotspot data ($45,685 annually) and hearing amplification systems ($43,020) are COVID-19 related technology costs. Czech said the district is going to upgrade its phone system, a one-time fee totaling $9,434.

“That upgrade will allow teachers to call out on cell phones, but it will show the district phone number, Czech said. Regarding hearing amplification, the high school building is the district’s weakest area. “That may not be ready for the first day, but installed by end of September. The hotspot data for this school year.”

Board Member Chad Young asked if data use would be unlimited. Barton replied it would be, adding, “Last year, our saving grace was that we had unused data from prior years, and we were able use it, but we ran out of that right away.”

Food Service Changes

Czech said district food service is going to look radically different this year.

“It’s going to be more expensive to provide, but I think we will be able to add it to this list of COVID-19 related expenses,” she said.

District officials currently don’t know about adding food service staff. In March, when schools closed because of COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Agriculture allowed all schools to provide meals at no cost to all students and then extended that provision through the summer.

That extension was set to expire on Aug. 31, the district reported. “We don’t know right now how many kids are going to opt in and eat lunch,” Czech said. “If you are in the pay program you have to pay. Free and reduced will still be free and reduced. We believe those numbers are going to go up.”

Distance learning meal pick-up will be at the Middle School on Wednesdays for all grade levels. Families taking will take three days’ worth of lunches home at one time. “We think that’s going to dramatically change the number of students coming through our lunch lines,” Czech said.

Food service-related primary and intermediate school teacher reallocations involve five staff members in each building, Czech said.

Those annual expenses ($184,732 and $118,809, respectively), would also qualify for CFT funding.

Tomsky asked how the food service budget would be affected by the different style of food being offered. All meals will be “grab-n-go style,” meaning all components will be pre-bagged for students. The only choice will involve milk.

“If we have more free and reduced lunch students than in the past, I would say it might stay relatively the same,” Czech replied. “If we have a lot of people paying for lunch, and that lunch is basically sandwiches, parents might say they will send a lunch from home. Those are the things we don’t know.”

“Right now, we have a little over $1 million in COVID-19 related costs,” Czech told board members during the Aug. 18 work session. “We have $525,000 that we believe we can get out of the CRF funds, with $485,000 in the second half of the year. I expect this to change daily, and I expect these costs will continue to go up.”

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