The Grand Forks School Board finalized results of the June 22 referendum and approved the district’s application to the state for $8.2 million in federal ESSER II funds at a special meeting Monday, June 28. ESSER stands for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief.
Both referendum questions – one to raise the mill levy for the building fund and the other to issue $86 million in bonds for a new consolidated school on the city’s north side and other facility needs – failed to gain the 60% approval for passage in last week's vote. The yes votes totaled 30% and 54%, respectively.
The ESSER II application, which must be submitted by Wednesday, June 30, will cover allowable expenditures incurred between March 13, 2020 and Sept. 30, 2023. The funds will be received on a reimbursement basis, said Scott Berge, the district’s business manager.
About $2.2 million of the $8,235,471 in requested funds will cover expenses that have been incurred by the district, including $1.5 million for window replacement at Ben Franklin Elementary, a project completed last summer, and HVAC and boiler issues at Phoenix Elementary and South Middle School. It will also cover about $700,000 in salaries and benefits for distance learning staff members who were hired for Jan. 1 through the end of the 2020-21 school year. The first round of ESSER funding only covered these staffing expenses through Dec. 31, 2020, Berge said.
The remaining $6 million in ESSER II funds will be incurred for COVID-recovery projects starting this fall, he said.
Because district administrators had only received guidance last week from the state Department of Public Instruction regarding what expenses could be included in the application, they needed to work quickly to determine expenditure priorities, along with soliciting input from educational and community stakeholders, Superintendent Terry Brenner said Friday, June 25, in a weekly letter to School Board members.
Taking into account responses from a survey seeking public input on how ESSER funds should be spent, the district is applying for about $2.44 million for educational technology; $2.56 million for improving air quality; $1.08 million to address learning loss; $1 million for high quality instructional material and curricula; $775,000 for supplemental learning; and $360,000 for mental health supports.
In another round of funding, ESSER III will net the district another roughly $18.5 million to cover expenses incurred through September 2024. The application for those monies is not yet available from the state Department of Public Instruction; the application is due Aug. 17, Berge said.
A total of 20% of ESSER III funding must be dedicated to learning loss, he said.
In the special meeting Monday, board members also finalized the votes of the June 22 referendum. Official vote totals only varied slightly from the June 22 evening results – two “set aside” ballots that were cast by voters who went to the polls but did not have proper identification, which they later supplied; four that were disallowed because they were not postmarked by the June 21 deadline; and a couple of ballots that were unintelligible or the voter selected yes and no in response to the same question.