Amid questions from the public, Petersburg School District explained in detail how they have spent federal CARES Act funding at the last regular school board meeting. As Angela Denning reports, most of the pandemic money went to extra staffing for students and technology for schooling from home.

The school district has received $928,339 so far for COVID response.

The money came in three phases.

In the spring of 2020, the school district received $142,274, which expired June 30 of last year. The second phase brought in $242,145 and expires the end of this June. The third funding phase is supposed to last the next two school years and is worth $543,920.

Finance Director, Karen Morrison, presented the breakdown to the school board.  

“So all of these funding sources really have been used in our district to address and support learning loss by hiring additional staff so that we have smaller classrooms,” she said. “And we’re providing small group interventions.”

The funds have also been used to purchase technology devices like laptops. The district bought 160 Chrome books for third through fifth graders. Support software and accessories have also been purchased along with refurbished Mac Books and some smart boards.

Some funds went to an extended summer school program last year including bus transportation and they expect to do that again this July.

Besides a few extra teachers for smaller class sizes, the district also hired a reading interventionist for fourth through sixth graders.

Sanitation supplies were bought and someone was hired to clean all the technology devices everyday. And some PPE materials were also purchased.

Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter said future spending will look similar, focusing on students and staff.

“We will continue to do that moving forward because that is a big component,” said Kludt-Painter, “looking at student achievement and any sorts of learning loss or disruptions that have happened over the last couple of years.”

The school board presentation stemmed from questions that the district has received from the public. One misconception was that the money was tied to masking, according to the superintendent. Kludt-Painter says some people thought that school districts had to require masking to get the funding but that’s not the case.

“There seems to be some misunderstanding about that,” she said. “Well, you only got the money because you put masks on our kids. And that’s just not true. There were districts that had much reduced protocols and also received those federal dollars.”

The spending breakdown can be found on the school district’s website. (It’s in the COVID section under the link for frequently asked questions about CARES Act funding.)

School Board President Sarah Holmgrain stressed that the information has always been available to the public. But she hopes the new graphics will help people understand it better.

“If they have a question–instead of speculating–they can just go to the website and they can look at everything and it will have links to other spots so they can see that there is nothing’s been hidden,” Holmgrain said. “It’s all been up front right from the get go.”

Kludt-Painter says the funding process has been very transparent through the State of Alaska’s Department of Education. Grants for all school districts can be found on its website and anyone can view Petersburg’s grant applications.