Interested in how Dearborn Public Schools spent millions of dollars in COVID relief funding?
Dearborn Public Schools has created a new webpage at https://firstbell.dearbornschools.org/covidfunds with information on how different waves of funding have been spent or are budgeted. The page will continue to update.
So far, the district has received $121 million in federal funding through multiple waves of programs, commonly referred to as Elementary-Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds. The district expects to receive an additional $23 million, but the state has yet to release those funds.
Every dollar of ESSER and COVID relief funding came with restrictions on how the district is allowed to spend that money. Funding is more or less limited to pandemic-related items. It was only with funding from ESSER III that schools were allowed to spend money on building improvements. Even then, any building improvements were limited to some heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) work, because improving air ventilation helps reduce the risk of spreading germs inside buildings. . Any other capital improvements, such as roofs, parking lots, lighting, buses, and floors, could not be funded with ESSER dollars.
Of the $63 million the district is currently authorized to spend under ESSER III funding, $40 million has been budgeted for HVAC work in buildings. This amount represents 64% of this wave of funding and 33% of the total ESSER funds the district has received or budgeted to date.
The second largest item was $23 million spent on the 2021 summer school program. Approximately 8,400 students participated in the free and hands-on educational and enrichment activities offered at all grade levels. A similar but smaller summer program is planned for summer 2022.
Other major ESSER-funded items included $15 million related to social-emotional/mental health issues, $13 million for staff retention and recruitment, $9.3 million for staff for learning in line and $6 million for technology.
Most of the spending was on items that the district would not otherwise have been able to provide within the regular $333 million annual budget, including the level of HVAC work and the size and depth of the summer school program. However, in some cases, the district was able to use ESSER funding to cover items that would have been budgeted for anyway. For example, using ESSER to pay staff for e-learning then freed up funds to be used for other things.
Easing pressure on the traditional budget also allowed the district to invest approximately $17 million more than originally planned in necessary improvements and repairs to our buildings.
“People see the amount of dollars that have been allocated to us through ESSER funding and think the district has received a huge windfall,” said Tom Wall, executive director of business services and operations. “What a lot of people don’t realize is that all of this money is limited in how we can spend it and the district has had millions of dollars in additional pandemic-related expenses. Also, some of the first wave of relief money just filled the hole created when the state limited our funding due to the recession.
Among additional pandemic-related expenses, the district spent $7 million on supplies and services related to online education. Most of those expenses are items the district didn’t buy before the pandemic, including providing every student with access to Schoology to manage homework and online classes and Zoom for live classes with teachers. Still, in the $7 million, the district spent quite a bit on a new elementary reading program, as the program includes online components.
In other areas, especially staffing, the district needs to be careful about using ESSER funds to create expenses that will continue when that funding ends. ESSER II funds must be spent by September 30 of this year and ESSER III funds must be spent by September 30, 2023.
“We always want to be transparent with our stakeholders, but it goes both ways,” Wall said. “This funding can be very complex, and people need to take the time to have at least a general understanding of how we are allowed to spend ESSER money and where we have invested it.”