District 518 plans how to use its federal ARPA funds strategically – The Globe

WORTHINGTON — District 518 has received $5.68 million in federal funding intended to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, and plans to use that money to add staff positions, purchase educational supplies and services, and put update the facilities.

“We try to be strategic,” said District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard.

The emergency relief money for elementary and secondary schools was part of the American Rescue Plan Act, originally signed into law on March 11, 2021.

“We’re lucky because we can use those dollars to support the kids academically,” Landgaard said. “And that allows us to meet some of the overall needs of the neighborhood and transition as we add another building.”

Asked if the funding would alleviate the damage caused by the pandemic, Landgaard said it would help, but cautioned people against waiting for immediate solutions.

“People don’t realize that with student learning loss, it’s not going to be fixed overnight. It’s more like one, two or three years,” he said. “There are kids who will catch up quickly and tackle their learning loss, and there are kids who will take a little longer.”

Much of the school’s ESSER funding—$2.5 million—has been budgeted for facility needs, along with long-term facility maintenance funding of $1.25 million.

The bulk of that $3.75 million total is $1.9 million, which will be used to replace four air-handling units at Worthington High School.

Another $942,500 will replace an air cooler at Prairie Elementary, which will also see a new control system and major equipment such as floor scrubbers.

District 518 has already added about a half-dozen positions and hired staff for them this year, and another half-dozen will likely be hired next year, Landgaard said.

Although the federal money is running out, he said, the school district probably should have added some of those jobs anyway. For example, some of the new employees would have been needed to staff the new middle school, and others would have been needed due to enrollment growth in the district.

The new positions will not disappear once the ESSER funding is spent, Landgaard said. Instead, they will be paid through the school’s general fund, part of which comes from local property taxes and part comes from the state of Minnesota on a per-student basis.

“What we’re trying to avoid is precisely that: having an impact on taxpayers,” Landgaard said.

Staffing increases in the district’s ESSER budget plan are expected to cost $2.77 million over two years and include three speakers for Prairie Elementary, two counselors for Worthington Middle School, one FACS position to be shared between Worthington High School and the Learning Center, a math position and a CTE position at WHS, as well as a special education teacher for the district’s online program. Additionally, there is a budgeted increase for artistic positions at the WMS and the Learning Center.

The staff growth budget also includes funding for district technology positions, a district school improvement position, a behavioral specialist, a director of education, a human resources, a nurse, math intervention staff and an education technology contract.

In addition to the $2.77 million for staff increases, District 518 plans to spend $410,000 on educational supplies, equipment and services.

This includes the $100,000 investment in technology equipment, which can include iPads and printers, but also less visible equipment such as switches and routers. Essentially, any hardware would fall under this category.

School transportation is also listed as a cost of $100,000, which will cover additional transportation costs for the children. This could mean bringing students to after-school programs or providing transportation over longer distances, removing barriers for students so they have more opportunities.

Other supplies on the district’s shopping list are computer programs to boost math and reading skills and teaching materials for reading and STEM — all subjects that have seen student test scores drop at the nationwide when the COVID-19 pandemic hit schools.

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