Neosho Schools to discuss latest funds

Seth Kinker

Near the end of the Neosho Board of Education meeting March 15, a question arose about the latest round of funds coming to the state and district due to the $1.9 billion American Rescue Plan signed into law this month. 

In total, $168 billion of the $1.9 trillion was allocated for education nationwide, with $126 billion allocated for K-12.  

In the first round of Elementary and Secondary School Relief (ESSER) funding allocated through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act signed into law in March 2020, the Neosho School District (NSD) received $850,404 after $21,012 was allocated for private schools. 

The district used the funds to pay salaries that weren’t covered from a different source and helped offset the $1 million of withholdings the district had from the state last year. 

In the second round of ESSER funding allocated through the next COVID relief package signed into law in December 2020, the NSD received $4.25 million. 

That money, which must be spent by 2023, has yet to be budgeted by the NSD. 

“I’ll be running some models and formulating ideas between now and our June work session with the board to come up with some models for how we might be able to use that,” said NSD Superintendent Jim Cummins. 

Cummins told the Neosho Daily News that a few of the things that should be part of the discussions for allocating the ESSER II funds included payroll expenses, Personal Protective Equipment, supporting the NSD’s reserves as they transfer money into the Capital Projects fund to help the $30 million worth of ongoing projects in the district and Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) work. 

“As we go about the preventative maintenance schedule of HVAC replacements,” said Cummins. “Do we consider rolling 4-5 years of HVAC work into one bid package? Get it done and use ESSER II dollars for that purpose? (Those are just) some things initially we are having discussions about.” 

Cummins touched on the necessary attention to detail to track where all of the different sources of funds are coming from and how to spend them appropriately. 

From CARES Act funds that the counties receive, individual grants from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) in addition to CARES direct reimbursements to school districts, transportation-related grants and technology-related grants.

“We’re getting them coded into the different funding sources so we can say we didn’t use that state and federal dollar to pay for the same thing,” said Cummins. “It’s one of the challenges we face. As we build out the model to spend the ESSER II funds, that’s one of our goals. To identify all these different pots of money and the things we’ve paid for. For two reasons, one for audit purposes and two, we’ll be able to share it with the community. This is where those dollars went and be able to be open about the spending.” 

The question at the Monday board meeting was whether the NSD would be receiving a sum similar to that of the second round of ESSER funding, with Cummins telling the board at the meeting that DESE was still in the process of figuring out how to roll out the funds.

With the figure set to be substantially higher, the $126 billion allocated for K-12 is bigger than the first two relief packages combined. Cummins declined to estimate how much the NSD would receive until any stipulations with the newest round of funding came out. 

Cummins added that he hoped guidance would be out in the next few weeks on the latest round of funding so the board can roll those talks on what to do with the money into the long-range discussions at the June work session. 

“The goal here is to make sure we’re not making decisions by the month, week or day on how to spend the funds, but that we have a plan in place,” said Cummins. “That plan should be similar with any new money. Here are our goals we want to achieve; here are the things we can and can’t pay for out of it. Let’s make sure we’re spending it in a purposeful manner based on the parameters we set in June.” 

Before school started this year, the district met with parents about reopening in a COVID-19 world. 

“The strong message was, ‘we want our kids in school,’” said Cummins. “‘We want our kids safe. We don’t want NSD spending tons of money on things that just give the appearance of safety. Don’t just go spend money to say you spent it to make the school safe.’ We tried to adhere to that and haven’t just spent money frivolously because it was available. We’ve tried to be good stewards and spend the money where it would keep kids truly safe.”