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Coeur d’Alene public schools’ proposed school plant facilities levy going before voters Aug. 30 has prompted some community members to ask: What happened to the millions of dollars the school district received as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?

The Coeur d’Alene School District received $26.57 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding in the past two years.

Those funds came in five rounds, with money in the first round restricted to specific, pandemic related spending. The rest was unrestricted.

The district allocated $5.59 million of this funding in the 2020-2021 school year. The following school year, $10.34 million was allocated.

About $10.64 million remains to be allocated in the next two school years. Federal COVID relief funding was used by the district to offset cuts in state funding to K-12 education caused by enrollment loss and other measures enacted in response to the economic hardships at the onset of the pandemic. School districts across the state used COVID relief funds to balance budgets, ensure services could continue and reduce the need to cut staff.

Breakdown of school district’s total COVID relief spending

• $7.915 million — Compensation for extra duties and retention

• $6.292 million — Balance budget for state cuts and enrollment decline

• $3.725 million – Safety, security, and deferred maintenance

• $3.478 million — Learning loss programs

• $1.869 million — Technology

• $1.807 million — HVAC

• $521,000 — Distance and blended learning

• $506,000 — Special education

• $346,000 — Personal protective equipment and COVID response

• $115,000 — Child nutrition “Definitely with the first round, the COVID Relief Fund pretty much restricted it to COVID mitigation,” said Coeur d’Alene School District Director of Finance Shannon Johnston. “We were able to do compensation for all the hours worked — custodial, nursing, maintenance — and the very specific software curriculum for distance learning. Nothing to supplant; only to supplement.”

All the COVID funding expires in September 2024, with the caveat that heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, as well as construction and deferred maintenance projects are eligible to use this funding through 2026, as these require more time to complete.

“The state and the federal government have recognized it’s going to take a long time to get material, labor, all that,” Johnston said.

COVID mitigation efforts include:

• HVAC filtration upgrades at all schools for student and staff health

• Wireless access points for students without internet to use devices inside and outside of buildings

• Additional software and devices for blended learning

• Safety training and additional staffing for mitigation of infectious disease The nearly $3.5 million spent or planned to help students recover from learning loss that has occurred since the beginning of the pandemic includes: Enrichment initiatives; extra support using targeted instruction and interventions; expanded summer school programming; partnerships with organizations for families experiencing homelessness; and professional development to help struggling students.

“COVID was a circuit breaker for everybody in public education,” said Deputy Superintendent Mike Nelson. “The kids who were in the middle of COVID absolutely had a shock to their system, where we had to pivot so quickly and deliver some sort of content in a very rapidly changing dynamic. I’m proud of what we as a district did, but at the same time, we’re fortunate that the state and the federal government has looked back and said, ‘We recognize we’re going to have to put some extra things on people’s plates.’ What I don’t appreciate is the strings that are typically attached to everyone.”

District spokesman Scott Maben said he hasn’t fielded many questions regarding the district accepting federal funds during this time of crisis. “I think it would have been foolish for us to have rejected it when our revenues were in decline,” Maben said. “The state was cutting our funding. This money was not gravy. This was a lifeline.” COVID relief funds and the proposed levy A 10-year, $8 million per- year safety and maintenance-focused school plant facilities levy election is on the ballot for Aug. 30. COVID relief funds are separate from what can be used and what is needed to cover what this proposed levy would support if approved.

“It’s not enough, first of all,” Maben said. “Over the next 10 years, those deferred maintenance costs are projected to exceed $100 million.”

He said most people understand the different priorities of these funding sources.

“We’re going into a new school year here with the ability to continue allocating our remaining COVID relief funds for high priorities that we see right now,” Maben said. “Then we can roll into a lot of this other deferred maintenance and safety needs with the levy funds.”

Nelson stated that the state of Idaho doesn’t provide any money for school buildings.

“That is atypical,” he said. “And to require any sort of bond to have a supermajority is also somewhat punitive.”

Successful passage of the proposed safety and maintenance levy requires a 55% supermajority of votes in favor of the ballot measure. Nelson said Idaho is unique in how it funds its schools. “The one value that I keep hearing back from our state legislature is ‘local control,’” Nelson said. “They want the local populous to have as much of a say in how monies are spent as possible.”

He said local levies, bonds and the safety and maintenance levy request are a direct representation of what the community values. “The legislature over the years has said, ‘We’ll give you the bare basics, but ultimately, it’s up to you, Coeur d’Alene Public Schools, to say what you value,’” Nelson said. “What we value are safe, engaging learning environments for kids. And for us to provide those environments, we have to be able to come up with a way to pay for them. “We have to reinforce the fact that we want an educated populous, and that’s not just a Coeur d’Alene School District value,” he said. “We want people to come into this community who are vibrant, educated, welcoming and ultimately going to contribute to society. It doesn’t matter where you go in this community — people want an educated human as part of that.”

District received $26.57 million in past two years; $10.64 million allocated in next two years

By DEVIN WEEKS Staff Writer | CDA PRESS

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