Petersburg’s borough assembly Monday approved spending over three quarters of a million dollars of the borough’s coronavirus relief funding for school staff and equipment that will help with the start of the new school year. Assembly members questioned whether that money would also be needed for other services in the community but approved the request.
The school district requested 778,000 dollars in CARES Act funding. Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter explained the schools needed the money to prepare for two separate tracks at once.
“Essentially we are preparing for two complex systems at the same time, in-person and virtual,” Kludt-Painter told the assembly. “Implementing both of these systems at the same time requires additional staff to provide instruction, support for special needs and high risk students and to implement additional cleaning and disinfecting services. Both of these scenarios also require additional technology equipment, remote learning solutions, PPE, cleaning solutions and equipment and hygiene supplies. It is extremely expensive to prepare for and operate two systems like this.”
Kludt-Painter told the assembly that new hires would be temporary positions to help respond to the requirements for school safety. She also noted that the two-track reopening plan probably could not happen without the additional funding and that the district has started making purchases to have equipment in time for the school year.
The borough had previously approved a payment of $70,178 in CARES Act funding for the district in June. That was for additional staffing and equipment needs from the spring and summer. This additional funding will be used for the new school year.
Board president Sarah Holmgrain supported the request and pointed to the state’s 46-page guidance document for re-opening schools, called Smart Start.
“Protocols that need to be in place to keep both staff as well as students safer and minimize potential risk is our best hope for getting through the school year with as much face to face instruction as possible,” Holmgrain said. “Our current budget does not take that into account. It doesn’t take into account a pandemic or the extensive guidelines and protocols Smart Start calls for.”
The borough is expecting to receive a total of 3.9 million dollars from the federal relief bill by the end of the year. It has already approved spending. This school payment leaves $1,515,000 remaining.
Mayor Mark Jensen wondered about other needs for the federal funding.
“Was any of this money going to be used for borough functions other than school and will this expenditure if we vote to give this 780,000 dollars to the school, will that affect our plans or do we even have any concrete plans for the money?” he asked.
Borough manager Steve Giesbrecht responded that the local government was expecting to use some of the money for paying first responders this year, which would take some pressure off the borough budget. He said other plans were not concrete.
“Again not very specific although we have been talking about potential utility rebates, we’ve been talking about maybe another grant program for businesses,” Giesbrecht said. “Clearly if there’s fewer amounts of money in that fund then we have to look harder at adding anything else to what we’re already doing.”
Staff also expected the Petersburg Medical Center may request funding as well.
Assembly member Chelsea Tremblay urged her colleagues to approve the school request.
“I share the concerns thinking about the upcoming unknown costs and other ways the community is in need in a lot of different directions right now and I understand feeling like we want to try and save this money for some of those unknowns but the urgency of the schools’ request given timing, given uncertainty with what’s happening at the federal level and given the burden that it’s put on so many families, I think it’s important that we support this,” Tremblay said.
The vote was unanimous to approve that school funding with assembly member Taylor Norheim not attending the meeting.