R-1 school board considers ESSER funding options

By Laura Schiermeier, Staff Writer
Posted 5/6/21

VIENNA — Maries R-1 and other schools in the state and in the nation are waiting on additional information about how to spend the federal money coming to the school districts to help offset the …

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R-1 school board considers ESSER funding options

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VIENNA — Maries R-1 and other schools in the state and in the nation are waiting on additional information about how to spend the federal money coming to the school districts to help offset the cost of the COVID-19 pandemic in the local school community.

Maries R-1 Superintendent Mark Parker said in conversation with other superintendents from across the state, they are saying to spend the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds for salaries. This will open up local money, which is easier to use without federal requirements being attached. 

At the April Maries R-1 School Board meeting, Parker said Maries R-1 had no problem spending the ESSER I money, which totaled $100,241.19. 

Next is the ESSER II funds which total about $351,000 he hopes to use some of for salaries. However, he told the board members 20 percent of the ESSER II money is to be used to address student learning loss due to the pandemic. And, for costs of returning to school. The money also is for school tutoring to help get students back to where they need to be academically. 

The money is anticipated to be ready to use in May. To receive it, Parker goes to the DESE website and completes a reimbursement form. Money must first be spent then the school can apply for reimbursement. The funds cover a period of time since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 and extends until Sept. 2023. Maries R-1 has estimated it will have $788,000 in ESSER III money to apply for reimbursement payments as well.

Another factor with the ESSER money, Parker said, is a federal audit. He has been trying to pinpoint how to use it to avoid a federal audit. A federal audit is required for expenditures above $750,000. Board Vice President Penny Schoene said she thinks they don’t need to worry about the audit.

The administration and the school board members have talked for several months about installing air conditioning in the high school gym, also known as Allen Gymnasium. An estimate provided by Thermal Pro, a ballpark estimate to get some idea of the cost, was $220,000 to $250,000. Parker said he was told aluminum or metal ductwork are hard to get right now due to supply and demand and supply chain problems caused by the pandemic. However, it was suggested using vinyl for the ductwork, which he was told is cheaper and is an adequate material to use. Parker said the air conditioning project will have a listing of specific requirements and will be bid out later if the school board decides to go forward with the project. 

Although he does not know the exact amount, Parker said Maries R-1 might receive about $788,000 in ESSER III funds. Using a portion of this new funding to pay for budgeted salaries would free up enough local money to pay for the gymnasium air conditioning. There are still unknowns about the amount of money and more direction is needed on how and where it should be spent.

Board President Vicki Bade said the board needs a special meeting to think and to talk about this money. Board member Dave Garro agreed, saying he thinks they need to establish a plan. He suggested there may be money to replace the old furnace boiler if it is an allowable expense. 

Bade asked if the money can be used for transportation needs and Parker said he thinks part of it might. He talked about the problems with coding so many areas and Bade said the board can look at two or three categories that make sense to the board members. But, she thinks the expenditures should not be driven by coding concerns.  

In other business at the April R-1 School Board meeting:

• Bade asked about students on the school bus. Do they follow social distancing guidelines on the bus? Parker said they asked drivers and students to do the best they can on the bus. If it is warm enough there needs to be ventilation with windows at least partly down, and if they can student bus riders should social distance. Hand sanitizer is available to them. 

Bade asked if the school board and administration can lift the mask mandate for summer school. Parker said they can lift the mask mandate now if they want to, but he advised against it. There are too many things coming up they don’t want to mess up by lifting the mask mandate too soon. They want to have graduation in the gym. The want the seniors to be able to have a senior trip. There are additional end-of-school activities students want to participate in but might not be able to if there is a new outbreak of the Covid-19 virus. The school doesn’t want to start sending students home if the Covid-19 numbers start going up. “Why mess it up when we are so close?” Parker said, adding they can suspend the mask mandate for summer school and if the virus numbers go up, the mask mandate can be put back on. 

• The administration is still working on summer school bus routes, but know they will be running on paved roads only. Parker said this means summer school buses will travel on Highway 63 both north and south, Highway 28, Highway 42 both east and west, and Highway 133. Other lettered highways may be included such as Routes W, E, Y, N, A, V, and AA. As soon as the summer school routes are set the school will get the information out to parents.

• Bade asked about when the window replacement project in the elementary and middle schools will begin. Parker said he expects this big project will begin the day after school is out. They are waiting on some supplies. The contractor wants to start working on the exterior entryways improvements soon. Parker commented there is a lot to do this summer. 

Board member Mike Kleffner had questions about the entryway from the gym into the old library, which has been converted to the new band room. Parker said the hallway will connect to the gym and the new concession stand will be located on one side of it. There will be an exhaust fan in the concession stand, probably a wall unit. 

• Parker said he anticipates funding for the next school year to be slow, but level. He recommended giving all certified staff steps to catch up. This year they did an extra duty stipend, but not steps. The total cost of the stipends and cost-of-living increase for non-certified staff is about $30,000. Next year staff can be bumped up to where they should be on the schecule. This equates to a $1,000 pay increase over the 2020-21 contract amount. The motion was adjusted to include the non-certified staff to allow them a cost-of-living increase that was a similar percent increase on their hourly wage. Parker said he’s not sure of the funding level and will leave base salary increases for the new superintendent Teresa Messersmith.

Schoene said with the federal money Maries R-1 is getting, the increases won’t cost the district “out of pocket for a year.” The board approved bringing the teachers up to the steps they should be at and approved amending the motion for non-certified cost-of-living increases. 

• The board accepted the resignation of cafeteria head cook June Schwartze, effective at the end of summer school. Bade said they accept the resignation with regrets. Schwartze is a 30-year veteran of the school cafeteria. She will need to be replaced and the school district will advertise the opening for two weeks.

• The board approved letters of intent for employment for non-certified employees for the 2021-22 school year. 

• At the beginning of the meeting, the board was dissolved (Sine Die) and was reorganized. Dave Garro and Mike Kleffner were sworn in for another term on the board. 

Dave Long began the reorganization process by nominating Vicki Bade for president and it received a second. Cindy Petershagen nominated Penny Schoene as vice president, and it received a second and the board approved both nominations. Beth Hollis is the board secretary, and Terry Snodgrass is the board treasurer. 

• As the meeting was held a week earlier than usual due to the need to reorganize following the April election, there were no deposits yet from DESE. 

Parker reported electricity expenses in April of $3,218.36, which is more than April of last year and the year before. Electricity expenses have been trending down because of the installation of new energy saving LED light fixtures and bulbs. Parker said the increase might be that each classroom now has an air purifier running. Special Services Director Joe Edwards said there also are twice as many Chromebooks running this year and last year school was out in April because of the pandemic. 

Parker reported ordering propane. Kleffner suggested topping off the tank at the current rate but Parker said he can’t do that. He explained Homeland Security did a flyover and wanted all kinds of things such as guard rails, and if the school district stays below 60,000 lbs. with the propane tank, “We don’t have to jump through hoops.” He has been juggling this all year as Lock’s Mill will only bring a fully loaded tanker or nothing. The delivery is expected later in the week.

• Parker thanked Phelps Health staff for coming to the school to administer the second Covid-19 vaccinations to staff and other associated with the school.

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