The proposed Coeur d’Alene Public Schools School Facility Levy before voters on August 30 has some community members asking: What happened to the millions of dollars the school district received from the following the COVID-19 pandemic?
The Coeur d’Alene School District has received $26.57 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding over the past two years.
Those funds came in five rounds, with money from the first round limited to specific pandemic-related expenses. The rest was unrestricted.
The district allocated $5.59 million of this funding in the 2020-21 school year. The following school year, $10.34 million was allocated.
Approximately $10.64 million remains to be allocated over the next two school years.
Federal COVID relief funding was used by the district to offset cuts in state funding for K-12 education caused by lost enrollment and other measures enacted in response to economic hardship early in the pandemic. School districts across the state used COVID relief funds to balance budgets, ensure services could continue, and reduce the need to cut staff.
Breakdown of Total School District COVID Relief Spending
• $7.915 million — Compensation for additional duties and retention
• $6.292 million – Balance the budget for state budget cuts and declining enrollment
• $3.725 million – Safety, Security and Deferred Maintenance
• $3.478 million — Learning loss programs
• $1.869 million — Technology
• $1.807 million — HVAC
• $521,000 — Distance and blended learning
• $506,000 — Special Education
• $346,000 — Personal Protective Equipment and COVID Response
• $115,000 — Feeding children
“Certainly with the first round, the COVID Relief Fund pretty much limited it to COVID mitigation,” said Shannon Johnston, financial director for the Coeur d’Alene school district. “We were able to compensate for all the hours worked – babysitting, nursing, maintenance – and the very specific software program for distance learning. Nothing to supplant; only to supplement.”
All COVID funding expires in September 2024, with the caveat that heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, construction and deferred maintenance projects are eligible to use this funding until 2026, as they require more time to complete.
“The state and federal government recognized that it would take a long time to get materials, labor, all that stuff,” Johnston said.
COVID mitigation efforts include:
• Improvements in HVAC filtration in all schools for the health of students and staff
• Wireless hotspots allowing students without internet to use devices inside and outside buildings
• Additional software and devices for blended learning
• Safety training and additional personnel for infectious disease mitigation
The nearly $3.5 million spent or planned to help students recover from learning loss since the pandemic began include: enrichment initiatives; additional support through instructions and targeted interventions; expanded program of summer schools; partnerships with organizations for homeless families; and professional development to help struggling students.
“COVID was a circuit breaker for everyone in public education,” Assistant Superintendent Mike Nelson said. “Kids who were in the middle of COVID absolutely had a shock to their system, where we had to pivot so quickly and deliver some kind of content in a very rapidly changing dynamic. I’m proud of what we’ve done as a district, but at the same time, we’re lucky that the state and federal government looked back and said, ‘We recognize that we’re going to have to put in some extra stuff. on people’s plates. What I don’t appreciate are the strings that are usually attached to everyone.”
District spokesman Scott Maben said he did not respond to many questions regarding the district’s acceptance of federal funds during this time of crisis.
“I think it would have been foolish of us to reject it when our income was down,” Maben said. “The state was cutting our funding. That money wasn’t gravy. It was a lifeline.”
COVID relief fund and proposed levy
A 10-year, $8 million-a-year school facility safety and maintenance election is on the August 30 ballot. The COVID relief funds are separate from what can be used and what is needed to cover this proposed levy. would support if approved.
“It’s not enough, first of all,” Maben said. “Over the next 10 years, these deferred maintenance costs are expected to exceed $100 million.”
He said most people understand the different priorities of these funding sources.
“We are entering a new school year here with the opportunity to continue to allocate our remaining COVID relief funds for the high priorities we are seeing right now,” Maben said. needs with levy funds.
Nelson said the state of Idaho does not provide any money for school buildings.
“It’s atypical,” he said. “And requiring any sort of connection to have a supermajority is also somewhat punitive.”
Successful passage of the proposed safety and maintenance tax requires a 55% supermajority in favor of the ballot measure.
Nelson said Idaho is unique in how it funds its schools.
“The only value I keep hearing from our state legislature is ‘local control,'” Nelson said. “They want local people to have as much say as possible about how the money is spent.”
He said the local levies, bonds and demand for the safety and maintenance levy are a direct representation of what the community values.
“Over the years, the Legislature has said, ‘We’ll give you the gist, but ultimately it’s up to you, Coeur d’Alene Public Schools, to say what you value,'” said Nelson. “What we value are safe and engaging learning environments for children. And for us to provide those environments, we need to be able to find a way to pay for them.
“We need to reinforce that we want an educated population, and that’s not just a value of the Coeur d’Alene School District,” he said. “We want people to come to this community who are vibrant, educated, welcoming and ultimately going to contribute to society. No matter where you go in this community, people want an educated human as part of that.”