End of ESSER cloud on horizon for Winston BOE

The Winston County Board of Education looks over the budget before approval. From left, Board members Randy Lee, Lamar Frith, Chief Financial Officer Morgan Blankenship, Board President Joey Boteler, Superintendent Greg Pendley and board members Allin Bailey and Mark Finley.

DOUBLE SPRINGS     - Since funding that school systems have been receiving through Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief will be ending in 2024, school officials are asking if funding will continue for personnel paid by ESSER funds.
The annual budget hearing conducted Tuesday, Sept. 5, by Morgan Blankenship, chief school financial officer for Winston County Schools, resulted in questions about ESSER funding not continuing after 2024.
County school officials are hopeful the state will fund at least a portion of the positions currently covered by ESSER, once the funding source is eliminated.
ESSER provided more than $122 billion to schools across all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, with funding fully distributed  by December 2021, with the goal of helping schools return to full in-person instruction, after the COVID-19 pandemic.
The funding could be spent on digital teaching tolls, improving technology infrastructure, increasing support staff, substitutes and employees, make school repairs and reduce health hazards, redesigning classrooms to promote health and wellness, purchase Personal Protective Equipment and other pandemic related resources.
The funding could also be used to create programs to track and reduce learning loss, provide after-school and summer programs/activities, mental and emotional support programs.
Deadline to spend ESSER monies is Sept. 30, 2022-2024, depending on ESSER I, II or III.
Blankenship explained the system received the Stronger Connections Grant, which was a new grant providing the system $400,000.
“An important note is that 43 percent of this revenue is from ESSER III funds, also known as COVID money,” Blankenship stressed.
“This revenue source will expire at the end of this fiscal year,” she pointed out, referring to Fiscal Year 2024.
The Winston County School system has been able to fund several personnel units with ESSER  III funds, including 10 instructional aides or paraprofessionals, half counselor unit at three elementary schools, three math coaches, one instructional coach, two reading specialists, shortfall of one nurse (where the allocation does not cover the full salary), portion of the mental health coordinator’s salary, portion of psychometrist position, two curriculum directors and portion of the salary for a virtual school director.
“I read this morning where the state had $600 million that they were afraid they were going to lose because of projects hadn’t started yet and things like that,” spoke out board member Lamar Frith.
Blankenship pointed out that ESSER II funding expires this month, but ESSER III funds will not expire until 2024, at which time school systems will no longer receive any ESSER funding.
“What I am hopeful of,” interjected WC Schools Superintendent Greg Pendley, “is that they will extend (the funding) and pool it back out.”
“The hope is that the state will increase funding for a lot of these in the coming fiscal year,” Blankenship added. “But if they don’t, we’ll have to look at the next steps for these.”
Pendley  assured that the school would continue to take measures to keep  the positions funded by ESSER.
“We’ve made provisions. As with any business or in education, funding has its ebbs and flows,” Pendley explained.
“With that being said, the board has been mindful, as have I, in making provisions to sustain our present level, but if a downward trend continues, obviously, there will have to be decisions made on what we can and can’t do,” Pendley pointed out.
Pendley continued that employment of people, which is their most valuable resource other than students, would be maintained.


See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.
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