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How some school districts in Shasta County plan to spend COVID relief money

Nada Atieh
Redding Record Searchlight

The COVID-19 relief package Congress approved in December will provide at least $6.8 billion to California’s school districts. In Shasta County, discussions are taking place to determine the most efficient ways to spend the money.

At this time, school boards are waiting to find out when the grant money will be received and have yet to know the restrictions that will come along with it, said Scott Booth, director of instructional services for Anderson Union High School District.

Scott Booth

AUHSD is estimating it will receive over $1.5 million in Title 1 funding, he said. The board is looking at using the grant to keep things running as they are. Administrators will be making sure in-person classes remain smaller in size, with less than 30 students per class being the target. They will be investing in cleaning and keeping up with facilitates.

In 2020, AUHSD spent CARES package funding in a variety of avenues. The district expanded the independent study program for students who were concerned about going to class in person and hired four teachers.

The district also purchased equipment like hotspots and Chromebooks for students. There was an increase of nursing and counseling services as well as tutoring and summer school expansion, Booth said.

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The district continued with providing free meals for lunch and dinner through a grab-and-go service, which reached tens of thousands of students. There was a significant investment in the staff through holding weekly teacher trainings after school for distance learning.

Twice a week, the schools offered after-school professional development and tech coaches on campus throughout the day to help teachers.

Anderson Union High School District teachers attending a workshop on using technology to teach online. Instruction in most Shasta County schools will be taking place virtually for much of the rest of the school year due to coronavirus-related shutdowns.

School districts across the board invested in tutoring, primarily in literacy and math, said Mike Freeman, executive director of learning and leadership support services at Shasta County Office of Education. SCOE also saw teachers across the districts accept extended working hours to provide academic instruction and intervention, and a heavy investment in technology, Freeman added.

Mike Freeman

There was also some personal protective equipment, like Plexiglas, purchased as well as classroom tech, cameras and microphones so teachers can stream instruction into homes as some schools fluctuated in and out of distance learning, Freeman added.

How Shasta Union used CARES funding

At Shasta Union High School District, CARES package funding in 2020 was primarily spent on two areas: additional staffing to help with distance learning and technology, said David Flores, chief business officer at SUHSD. The district was concerned with students’ connectivity to technology and access to Chromebooks.

A large portion of the CARES package funding went to hardware and software, as well as internet connectivity for students, but the staff also tried to decrease class sizes and increase independent study options for students, SUHSD Jim Cloney said.

Jim Cloney

The district purchased Plexiglas and other personal protective equipment and added music programs using string instruments and keyboards, he added. They also continued offering free meals to all students. 

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The discussions the board is having about spending the next round of COVID relief funding in 2021 is still centered around helping students with their education. However, the district is also looking at changing the older heating and cooling systems throughout the district to help with the air circulation, Flores said.

“It’s a lot more of what we’ve been doing. Adding sixth-period assignments and working with teaching staff to make sure they have the tools they need. That’s at the forefront of conversations,” Flores added.

SUHSD is estimating that it will receive anywhere from $2.7 million to $3 million with the stimulus package that was signed on Dec. 27. The money must be spent by December 2022, Flores said.

The financial picture may change, depending on what Gov. Gavin Newsom lays out for the 2021-22 budget, Flores said. That budget won’t be finalized until June.  

There is some speculation about what the budget will look like moving forward since it could be reduced because of the enrollment percentage.

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School funding is based on attendance. Schools receive general fund dollars based on the students they have enrolled at their districts. Moving forward, the concern would be that if COVID drastically drops the district’s enrollment, that would decrease the funding coming in, Freeman explained.   

“We’re looking ahead on what this means for long-term budget implications. What we’re seeing across the county is that COVID has impacted enrollment in districts,” Freeman said.

Nada Atieh is a Report For America corps member and education reporter focusing on childhood trauma and the achievement gap for the Redding Record Searchlight. Follow her on Twitter at  @nadatieh_RS. Help local journalism thrive by subscribing today!