COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – A handful of people attended the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Community Feedback Session held by the Muscogee County School District (MCSD) on Tuesday, which took place at the Public Education Center on Macon Road. The point of the session was to update community members on the semi-annual review of how MCSD tentatively plans to spend its ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) III ARP funds, which total $95,131,762.

Tim Smith, MCSD’s executive director of federal programs, guided audience members through a slideshow on the school district’s tentative allocations for the funds. The categories for the allocations were learning opportunity loss; operational continuity; student academic, social and emotional needs; maintaining safe in-person instruction and indirect costs.

“ESSER is our emergency relief funds we received from the federal government due to the COVID pandemic,” Smith said. “ESSER III is the largest allocation we’ve received. And with that allocation came a variety of requirements that we have to meet just to ensure that we are being responsible with the funds, that we’re including community involvement, and that’s why we’re meeting tonight and tomorrow at 12 p.m.”

Smith said the allocations on the slides were meant to be spent over the next two or three years.

The slide for learning opportunity loss showed $34,928,005, which is 36.7% of the total budget. In this category, $6,300,000 is budgeted for the salaries of intervention teachers. Smith said most of these teachers work part-time.

“They go in and provide support to students that need additional help,” he said.

Other allocations on the slide were typed out as follows:

  • Summer Learning Experience, or SLE (salaries) — $19,507,664
  • Benefits (for above salaries) — $5,871,919
  • SLE curriculum — $1,425,000
  • SLE supplies — $617,522
  • SLE transportation — $645,900
  • Supplemental learning subscriptions (Renaissance, IXL) —$560,000

The operational continuity slide showed $12,820,999 budgeted for that purpose, which is 13.5% of the total budget. The allocations on the slide were typed out as follows:

  • Hard-to-fill incentives, retention stipends, relocation incentives (Smith said these are to recruit people to MCSD), tuition assistance, performance stipends, fingerprinting — $4,671,000
  • Student Chromebooks — $1,000,000
  • Teacher laptops and monitors — $4,000,000
  • Dean salaries and benefits — $2,099,999
  • Transportation notification system — $50,000
  • Cabling for classroom SMART panels — $1,000,000

The slide for student academic, social, emotional needs showed $21,968,518 allocated for these purposes, which is 23.1% of the budget. The allocations on the slide were typed out as follows:

  • Mental health supports — $1,864,855
  • Lighthouse Virtual Academy — $1,000,000
  • Arts Integration activities (FabArts, Springer Opera House) — $675,000
  • Instructional supplies — $1,000,000
  • Textbooks — $4,500,000
  • Additional social workers — $928,663
  • Chancelight Therapeutic Services — $12,000,000

The maintaining safe in-person instruction slide showed $13,006,149 allocated for this purpose, which is 13.7% of the budget. The allocations on the slide were typed out as follows:

  • Cleaning supplies — $1,006,149
  • HVAC replacement — $12,000,000

The indirect costs slide showed $12,408,091 allocated for this purpose, which is 13% of the overall budget. The federal government allows school districts to spend 15% of their ESSER III budgets on this purpose.

“The federal guidance allows us to charge indirect costs to federal grants,” Smith said. “And indirect costs is where they’re acknowledging that managing these grants that we get costs [the district] money.”

Smith named salaries, utilities and room space as potential costs for this category.

He said MCSD’s current COVID-19 protocols will change soon.

“As of right now, students and staff are not required to wear masks,” he said. “If any students or staff want to, they need to be supported in that decision. It’s no longer recommended that schools implement physical distancing strategies. Schools are only required to report clusters of COVID to the Department of Public Health.”

Smith said MCSD isn’t tracking who’s had COVID-19 nearly as much as it used to.

“Schools are not required to conduct contact tracing and are not required to close a classroom after a child, student or staff member has COVID while in the classroom,” he said. “And quarantine, cleaning, disinfection, ventilation and hygiene may remain important layers of protection.”

Nobody in the audience spoke up during the community feedback session.

Smith can be reached for questions by calling (706) 748-2154 or by emailing smith.timothy.s@muscogee.k12.ga.us.