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Federal relief funds no simple fix for Ardmore City Schools budget woes

Michael D. Smith
The Daily Ardmoreite

With budget projections falling short amid a coronavirus pandemic, Ardmore City Schools is exploring ways to use federal relief funds to fill the gaps in current budgets and prepare for future cuts. The ACS Board of Education learned about some of the options potentially available during a Tuesday budget update. 

Finance Director Kelly Shannon told the board that midterm budget projects were about $53,000 short this year after a decrease in revenue. While federal funds from early relief efforts have already been budgeted, another round of emergency federal relief approved last month may provide the district more options to prepare for budget cuts in coming years. 

She developed proposals and presented them to board members while explaining the complex nature of the emergency relief funds approved through two rounds of Congressional efforts last year. The first coronavirus rescue package in March 2020 allotted $13.5 billion for an Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. 

A second round of federal relief for schools came last month in the form of an additional $54.3 billion for the ESSER Fund, according to the U.S. Department of Education Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. 

“These funds — which are significantly more than K-12 education received under the CARES Act — are the emergency boost schools need to implement intensive student supports to recover lost ground,” said Joy Hofmeister, Oklahoma State Department of Education Superintendent, in a Dec. 21 statement. 

Over $$4.8 million from both rounds of ESSER funds have been allocated for the Ardmore school district but state and federal regulations do not allow districts to simply apply the funds to any expense. Instead, money must be budgeted in accordance to federal law and approved by state administrators before districts are given access to the funds. 

Shannon explained that some expenses, like many salaries and even fuel, are traditionally budgeted with local or state dollars often derived from local taxes. Other expenses, like certain Title I teachers, are traditionally budgeted with federal dollars.

"In federal grants, the Districts are not supposed to use federal dollars to pay for expenses previously/normally paid out of local dollars. This is called supplanting," she said in a Thursday email.

The first round of ESSER funds, just under $990,000, has mostly been spent on technology, PPE and sanitation supplies, and other programs normally funded with federal dollars. Shannon said on Thursday that the only expense from that grant is not normally paid with federal dollars was a portion of the district's property insurance premium.

Once a second round of ESSER funding became available earlier this month, Ardmore schools was allotted about $3.8 million. Shannon believes allocating $2.7 for some salaries, fuel and summer school would leave just over $1 million to prepare the district for expected budget cuts in coming years.

“Taking advantage of that would help us through this budget crisis and then also set us up for next year when we’re going to have some make some big cuts,” Shannon told the board. “We know we’re going to have to cut expenses, and they’ll be local expenses.” 

While not a traditional use of federal dollars, Shannon said guidance from state education officials suggests that applying to use ESSER funds for local budgets will be approved.

Shannon said on Thursday that her proposals would have to first be considered by relevant faculty members before grant applications are sent to state education officials. She hopes to begin the application process early next month.

In other business, the board on Tuesday: 

  • Approved encumbrance registers and payroll purchase orders; 
  • Approved fundraiser requests for middle school girls athletics, high school vocal music and high school tennis booster club; 
  • Approved or renewed contracts with Balfour Graduation Services for 2022 through 2024, and the Take Two Academy Alternative Education Services Agreement for 20-21; 
  • Approved the 2021-2022 Academic Year Calendar;
  • Approved the Substitute Personnel Roster for the 2020-2021 school year; 
  • Approved the termination of Tamala Warren as a custodian from Lincoln Elementary; 
  • Approved the resignation of Sarah Johnson as a teacher's assistant at Will Rogers Early Childhood Center.