Garfield County school districts, charters make most of federal CARES funds to prep for new school year, recoup costs from spring shutdown
Roaring Fork Schools are spending the vast majority of their state-allocated funds to cover pandemic-related expenses on professional development and technology needs around the implementation of distance learning.
Likewise, Garfield County’s two other school districts, Garfield Re-2 and District 16, have been spending their COVID-19 relief funds on tech and staff support — but with a good chunk also going toward preparing for a sooner return to the classroom.
That’s true, as well, for area public charter schools that benefitted from some of the $121 million in federal CARES Act funds that were passed through the Colorado Department of Education.
The Roaring Fork District, which includes schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt, is starting the new school year with online distance learning beginning Aug. 17. A possible return to the physical classroom by Sept. 21 will depend on public health guidance at that time, district officials have said.
Meanwhile, Garfield Re-2 returns to the classroom Aug. 24, and District 16 returns to in-person instruction on Sept. 1. A remote option is still available for students in those districts.
The three charter schools in the area — Two Rivers Community in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale Community and Ross Montessori in Carbondale — also are planning mostly classroom learning, with a mix of remote learning in some classes, and for those who choose that route.
The Roaring Fork District received $4 million total in CARES dollars, including $3.6 million via the state allocation, to help offset costs incurred in response to the global COVID-19 outbreak.
Nathan Markham, chief financial officer for the district, said during a July 29 special school board meeting that about 73% of those funds have been designated for spending in three primary areas — instructional ($1.1 million), operational ($1.7 million) and school-level support ($137,000).
Of the money allocated so far, $1 million has gone toward professional development for certified teaching staff across the district and $300,000 for classified staff.
A breakdown of other allocated CARES funds includes:
- $710,000 for technology needs, including touchscreen Chromebooks for K-12 students and internet connectivity support
- $260,000 for custodial support, such as cleaning and disinfecting supplies and personal protective equipment
- $200,000 for facilities upgrades related to preventing disease spread
Part of the money in that latter category is being used to make improvements to the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems and air quality in each of the school buildings, Jeff Gatlin, operations director for the district, said.
That includes increasing outdoor air flow, better filtration systems, disinfecting and cleaning of mechanical components, and strategic use of ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) lights in buildings, Gatlin said.
“Because each school’s system is different, our solutions will look different in each school,” he said.
A little over $1 million of the district’s CARES funds are yet to be allocated, Markham said. That money could be used for food services and student transportation as safe ways to resume those services are discussed ahead of a physical return to school buildings.
Classroom preparations and technology upgrades to help Garfield Re-2 Schools adjust to the new health and safety guidelines have constituted a majority of the Rifle, Silt and New Castle schools’ CARES spending.
The district received nearly $2.83 million in state pass-through funds to cover expenses attributable to the response during the spring school building closures and continuing into the new school year.
“Not all of that has been spent yet, but we have spent the majority,” Re-2 Director of Communications Theresa Hamilton said.
Most of that money has gone toward technology needs, such as the purchase of Chromebooks and iPads for student use, as well as additional software programs, she said.
Additional expenses have included personal protection equipment for teachers and staff, masks, thermometers, acrylic dividers for classrooms, disinfectant wipes and fog sprays, and other cleaning supplies.
District facilities were already on a schedule to upgrade air ventilation systems, so some of that expense could also be recouped, Hamilton said.
The other major portion of the reimbursement funds have gone toward professional development of teachers and other classified staff, she said..
“We had about 90 folks in here over summer, developing the plans for the school return. So, there has been some training for people around distance learning and those things,” Hamilton said.
The district does have a contingency for online distance learning in the event of a major COVID-19 outbreak or a new school closure mandate from the state. The district is also working to accommodate families who request an online option.
Likewise, District 16 schools in Parachute and Battlement Mesa received a CARES allocation of $883,239.
Superintendent Brad Ray said a large portion of the funds have gone toward payroll and benefits for teachers and staff related to the decision to delay the start of the school year until Sept. 1. District 16 also plans a return to classrooms, but has an online contingency.
Because the district already has a program to furnish students and teachers with classroom supplies, part of the CARES funding is being used to buy additional equipment for individual student use that normally would be shared, such as calculators and other classroom electronics, Ray said. Public health restrictions prevent such items from being shared between students.
Additional COVID-related expenses have included technology needs, food service supplies, PPE, cleaning supplies and classroom furniture to help facilitate social distancing.
“We also included some money that was set aside for sick days and sick leave, depending on how we’re affected there,” Ray said.
Parachute/Battlement schools are also planning to provide an online option for families. As of Wednesday, between 10-15% of the district’s 1,200 students plan to opt for an online learning platform, he said.
Charters also benefit
Carbondale Community School, which operates under the Roaring Fork District umbrella, has also received some of the CARES funding for COVID-related expenses.
“The majority of that will go towards our top priority of health and safety for staff and students,” Head of School Sam Richings-Germain said.
That includes PPE equipment and hygiene and sanitation measures.
“We are also using this money to support professional development, distance learning and outdoor learning spaces,” she said.
Likewise, Two Rivers Community School in Glenwood and Ross Montessori School in Carbondale, which both operate under the Colorado Charter School Institute, were eligible for CARES funding.
Two Rivers received nearly $180,000, most of which went to personnel and supplies.
“On the personnel side we have added a new full-time elementary teacher to help reduce class size to support distancing, and added full-time technology teacher to support students and families with remote learning,” TRCS Head of School Jamie Nims said.
Supply purchases included student computers to replace outdated devices, upgraded teacher computers for remote learning abilities, cleaning equipment and supplies, student desks to help support distancing, and pop-up tents to provide shelter for outdoor lunches, Nims said.
Silvia Ramos, business director at Ross, said the school received $129,553 in CARES support.
“This funding was utilized to purchase student-specific supplies to replace our Montessori model of students sharing in classroom supplies,” she said. “Students will now have their own, individual box of supplies that will stay in the classroom and not be shared with others.”
The school also purchased plexiglass and other materials to build dividers within the school, as well as additional hand-sanitizing stations.
“And, we purchased hands-on Montessori materials to augment our hybrid and at-home learning models,” Ramos said.
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It has been well over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic changed all our lives dramatically. The social restrictions put in place to contain the pandemic have left most of us feeling exhausted and stressed…