School district outlines plans for coronavirus relief funds

by WHITNEY ENGLAND
Reporter | September 16, 2020 1:00 AM

The Whitefish School District has received $831,000 in coronavirus relief funding as part of money granted to schools across the state by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. 

The district’s Business Director Lucie Shea presented the first version of a budget relating to the money last week to the Whitefish School Board. 

The district received the money two weeks ago and the funds must be spent on COVID-19 related necessities, according  to Shea. The funds also need to be spent by Dec. 30, but expenses can date back to March 1. 

The amount of money each school in Montana received from the CARES act mostly depended on enrollment, with $418 allocated per student.

The Whitefish elementary district received $583,000 and the high school has been allocated $248,000. 

Shea explained that as of Aug. 31, the district has spent about 19% of the funds. The funding is categorized in the budget document, but Shea said it is important to remember it is subject to change.

“As with everything COVID related, this budget too needs to be quite fluid, or fluid enough so we can shift funding and the budget amounts between categories if necessary,” she said in the meeting.

Categories in the relief fund budget include public health, improvement of remote learning for students and staff, technological equipment, and modifications to satisfy social distancing requirements. 

The technological equipment category is the section with the highest actual spending so far with $101,785 budgeted for software, subscriptions and hardware, and all of the funds in this category were spent prior to the start of the school year.

Shea said the technology category may need additional funding pulled from another section of the budget.

“My prediction is that the IT department will be getting some extra money because they just continue to be overwhelmed as far as there’s just not enough hours in the day,” she said. “So that may be one of the areas we may see changes.”

The public health category, with $275,977 budgeted, mostly includes the hiring of temporary employees such as nurses, paraprofessionals, and custodians.

A $225,000 portion of the funding is allocated to classified positions and COVID-related leave, which would include extra leave time for staff out for COVID-19 reasons and substitute teachers or paraeducators. 

Also in the improvement of remote learning section is money for teacher and administrator planning time and professional development, among other things.

There was also an additional $250,000 of relief funding granted from the governor’s office to the school district separate from the first CARES act. 

According to Shea, this money has not been budgeted yet because the district has until September 2022 to spend it and therefore it is more important to budget the money with the quickly approaching end of the year deadline.