Johnson County School District No. 1 is slowly expending its portion of federal stimulus money approved in December 2020 to help school districts around the country prevent, prepare for and respond to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The funds — which are called ESSER II (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds — amount to roughly $1.8 million for the Johnson County district. 

During the district’s budgeting process in July, when administrators were first looking into how to spend the money, Superintendent Charles Auzqui said the most important thing was to spend the funds in a way that prepared the district for the long term, instead of just spending the money all at once. 

With some spending of the funds now underway, Auzqui reiterated that the district has no plans to spend the money all at once. 

“We kind of have to plan it out over the whole year,” Auzqui said. “Because just like what we said, if something happens, and we have to go more virtual or there’s some other guidelines, that’s what these funds are intended for.”

So far, the district has spent $126,113 on various items and policy implementations, most of which will support the district immediately, including additional cleaning equipment to help sanitize classrooms, ultraviolet lights to help clean school buses and a larger stock of personal protective equipment. 

The district also spent money on software, support for the new virtual school program and support for the task force website to keep county residents informed on coronavirus levels both in and out of schools. 

But some of the money — which has yet to be spent — is planned for a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system at Meadowlark Elementary School, which has been a topic of discussion at the school board for months, and could even be used to purchase air-purifying systems for several of the district’s buildings.

“The funds are being used, but I chose not to expend them all at once,” Auzqui said. “(We’ll) spend them over time as we see kind of where things pan out with COVID.”  

While the ESSER II funds are crucial support for the district, they’re likely not the only federal funds the district will have available.

Administrators are still awaiting the release of ESSER III funds, which Auzqui said in July could amount to roughly $3.6 million for Johnson County. 

At that time, Auzqui said he had concerns that some of the money could be diverted from the district for legislators to help “bridge the gap” with the state’s education funding shortfall. Because the district has not received any of those ESSER III funds and does not know when it will, however, there are no certainties on the amount. 

“It’s being held by the state right now, and it’s for good reasons,” Auzqui said. “I mean, they want to make sure they don’t have to pay the money back.” 

But when ESSER III funds are released, Auzqui said, they will be crucial for the district that plans to spend all of the ESSER II money available to it.

“Once ESSER II is gone, which is our intention, ESSER III will be essential to districts around the state continuing to build this COVID protocol on how we stay in school,” he said. 

Ryan Hanrahan joined the Bulletin in October 2020 and covers schools, county government and conservation. If you have ideas or feedback, reach out at ryan@buffalobulletin.com.

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