Third Esser installment of over $4 million in funding prompts discussion from Roaring Fork School Board
How can Roaring Fork schools make best use of $4 million?
That question drove discussion among school board members Wednesday after the Roaring Fork School District received its third round of Esser federal funds (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds). The district is currently planning how to spend the surplus in a way that is best for the district, Chief Financial Officer Nathan Markham explained at the board meeting Wednesday night the parameters set in place for how the funds can be spent.
“We have to spend the money in a, quote, ‘reasonable and necessary manner’ and they have some definitions around those, and it has to be in response to and in prevention of COVID-19. … We can spend them in a wide variety of ways,” Markham said.
The first Esser fund was $425,000, and the second was approved with the December stimulus for $1.9 million. The third Esser that was just approved in March from the ARPA comes to $4.3 million. The recent fund’s substantial amount prompted discussion from the board on how much oversight they would have in how and when the money is spent.
Superintendent Rob Stein explained the executive team plans to consult different departments and schools, but there won’t be any formal application process for receiving funds.
“What we want to avoid is sort of a grab for money so we’re not having a formal request for proposals process where everybody who wants something can throw their hat in the ring and hope to get a handout,” Stein said. “So, that’s why we’re using a variety of ways focused on student needs and the needs of our district in order to determine the general categories we will be spending.”
Stein said the facilities department will receive funds for improving ventilation systems and safety measures for increased protection from Covid for occupants of district buildings. Board member Jasmin Ramirez said she thought the board should be more involved in the planning and reviewing process. Ramirez added that the concern didn’t come from a lack of trust for members of the executive team or the Superintendent, but it is a part of the board’s responsibility to be as informed as possible.
“I think you know as a board the budget is the only thing we have any source of power to help direct. … I think for us as board members it’d be wise for us to at least know what that is going to look like for the next two, maybe three years — if we have some left over,” Ramirez said.
Board member Jennifer Scherer said she did not completely agree with Ramirez’s feedback but proposed a compromise of sorts that the board ought to take a closer look at larger purchases or investments the team makes.
“My personal thought on that is we’ve hired Rob to lead the district and to create this executive team to make the best decisions for these strategic measures we have put in place as most important. I don’t feel like it’s my job, you know our job as a board to look at everything we’re spending the money on. But to give the parameters,” Scherer said. “… Maybe if you’re spending a huge chunk of it in one area, maybe that’s something that we can have some review, some discussion on.”
Board members Jennifer Rupert and Maureen Stepp followed Scherer’s statement by adding that if everything the budget was spent on had to be approved by them, then no work would ever get done. Ramirez however clarified that she was not asking for a report or presentation on every expense, just more insight into why certain decisions were being made.
“I just think that it would be a good idea for us as board members to also say ‘yes, we’re approving this’ so that the general public and all of our stakeholders, and everybody else is like ‘okay, the (executive) team did their work, they went with the stakeholders, the board members saw it and they also think this is the right way we should be spending this extra money that is not part of our formal budget, but is extra money coming to us from the state,’” Ramirez said.
Stein backed Ramirez and said that before the budget deadline of Sept. 30, the executive team will bring their spending plan to the board. At that point the board will have the power to amend the plan if they think the money could be more effective by being spent in other ways. Since there are already Esser funds designated for summer programming, Stein said he did not want to slow down that process.
The motion for approving the Esser funding parameters passed unanimously.
Reporter Jessica Peterson can be reached at 970-279-3462 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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An update on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment COVID-19 guidelines is slated for discussion in Wednesday’s Roaring Fork School District Board of Education meeting.