The Peoria Unified School District has had to take on unexpected expenses because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but is receiving some financial relief to address the added burden.
The state of Arizona received $850 million in education funding from the Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act.
About $277 million of this has been allocated for elementary and secondary education, of which $4.2 million has gone to PUSD. This grant spans the time between March 2020 and September 2021 and must be used 100% for COVID-19 related expenditures.
The district’s three biggest pandemic-related expenses as of September have been: computers and technology with $1.3 million in expenses and another $1 million projected to be spent through fiscal year 2021 for a total of $2.4 million; Software/Online Curriculum with $550,903 in expenses and $284,016 projected to be spent through fiscal year 2021 for a total of $834,919; and PPE and sanitation with $161,724 in expenses and $434,283 projected to be spent through fiscal year 2021 for a total of $596,007.
CFO Michelle Myers said these initial estimates are considered to be understated, however revised numbers are still being determined.
Computers and technology includes laptops and internet hotspots. Laptops were purchased for teachers because their laptops at the time were so old they could not reliably host Microsoft Teams meetings with students. Every teacher, and some additional special and instructional support staff, received a new laptop as part of the COVID-19 purchases.
Software and online curriculum generally pertains to learning platform Florida Virtual, which was implemented this school year for virtual learning to deliver course content. The district has a $500,000 contract with Florida Virtual through the end of the school year with a $800,000 cap.
Funding for PPE includes disinfectant machines, cleansers, masks, face shields, sneeze guards, thermometers and sanitizer wipes among other things.
Governing board member Monica Ceja Martinez wanted to assure teachers they are not responsible for sanitary items such as sanitizer and cleaning wipes.
CFO Michelle Myers said the district has identified a standard list of PPE stocked in its warehouse that is readily available for all school sites.
“Our school sites are not being charged from their budget for those purchases. We are paying for it from a district-wide source, so the sites are encouraged to order what they need,” Ms. Myers said. “In a nutshell, from masks to face shields and hand sanitizer, we are doing our very best to have a readily available supply that can be ordered in real time from our warehouse for our staff and students.”
As the mask mandate issued by Maricopa County is still in effect, board President David Sandoval added the district is continuing to provide masks for students and teachers.
Shawn Duguid, chief operations, safety and risk management officer, said if a student comes on campus without a mask or a mask is soiled throughout the day, the school will give them another mask to wear until the end of the day. Additionally, the mask supply is constantly monitored so there are always enough available, he said.
“There are also thresholds that are set in the warehouse that once we cross below a certain number, with masks for example, we are automatically reordering through our suppliers,” Mr. Duguid said.
The district depends on revenues from things such as community education programs and rental fees. Ms. Myers said some revenue sources have decreased because of the pandemic. For example, revenue from gifts and donations decreased 20%-30%, and food services decreased about 10% because of pivoting away from the normal model of in-person meals during the summer.
“We still did have activity and we were very involved, but we were not charging those breakfast and lunch fees and hence we saw a decrease in revenue related to that,” she said.
Public school districts get the majority of their money from property taxes collected by the state, and state funding is based on enrollment, more specifically Average Daily Membership, or ADM. That is the average number of students per day enrolled for a specified date range or attendance period.
Enrollment at PUSD has decreased because of the pandemic.
To offset this, Ms. Myers said PUSD applied for the state’s Enrollment Stabilization Grant, the only mechanism designed to provide schools with predictability and to help districts adapt to changing enrollment during the pandemic.
The district could receive an estimated $2.8 million in grant funds for eligible expenses resulting from decreased enrollment. This grant draws from the state’s CARES Act allocation, and results are expected to be published Nov. 11, with funds expended by Dec. 4.
“This grant will be very helpful to school districts in the state to minimize the impact of declining enrollment,” she said. “In addition, the district is continuing to receive ongoing guidance on eligible expenses and grant award amounts from various state agencies that may adjust our initial projections. If the district does need to make budget adjustments in fiscal year 2021, this would occur in December 2020, when the district revises its expenditure budget for the year.”
The district also experienced decreased fuel and utilities expenses, but those figures were not readily available.
Philip Haldiman can be reached at 623-876-3697, email@example.com, or on Twitter @philiphaldiman.