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“We know it is best for kids to be in the classroom and we also know that the resources are there to do it.”

MARK BORN

State Representative

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Three area school districts — Northland Pines, Three Lakes and Phelps — are receiving more than $4.3 million in federal coronavirus aid, according to state officials.

The aid for K-12 school districts was distributed under the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund and the Governor's Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund under three federal coronavirus relief acts passed to date.

State Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) and Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green), co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee, released the figures following an analysis of the federal aid by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

“School districts across the state have received significant resources to keep students and staff safe and to open full-time, in person instruction,” Born said. “We know it is best for kids to be in the classroom and we also know that the resources are there to do it.”

Northland Pines received $2,953,617 through the three ESSER funds and GEER, or $2,238 per student. Three Lakes received $1,005,214 or $1,889 per student, and Phelps received $377,456 or $3,665 per student. 

ESSER was created under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was enacted by the federal government on March 27, 2020. Additional funding was provided under the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA), which was enacted on Dec. 27, 2020, and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which was enacted on March 11, 2021.



Pines spending

Northland Pines received $208,889 in ESSER I funds, zero in GEER funds, $845,644 in ESSER II and $1,899,084 in ESSER III.

Northland Pines District Administrator Scott Foster said some of the ESSER I funds went to Christ Lutheran School because Northland Pines was the fiscal agent per the law for ESSER 1. For ESSER 2 and 3, Pines was not the fiscal agent for Christ Lutheran so the dollars are all for Pines.

Northland Pines actually received $205,282 for ESSER I, which the district utilized toward being able to open school for in-person learning, according to Foster.

“All of these dollars will be used this school year for personal protective equipment (PPE) including masks, hand sanitizer, outdoor learning items such as picnic tables and outdoor wireless, additional staffing, wireless devices, software and other technology,” said Foster. “We really focused on items that we needed to run the school this year for in-person learning, while also considering what could be used in future years (and not just a one time use).” 

Foster said additional technology was needed as the district had more virtual students.

“We also had hybrid learning where students were at home by choice or due to COVID and still connected to each and every classroom all day long,” said Foster. “We did get additional internet options for students as the lack of broadband is a challenge to our students and families.”

Foster noted Pines also needed some additional staff to substitute teach, make class sizes smaller, and some staff to supervise and support students in different areas than they would have in past years. 

“I am proud that our plan to have in-person learning all year has worked and these dollars were very important to make that happen,” said Foster. “This money also focused on learning, not just having school. I am proud of our students and staff for making it happen.”

Foster said the ESSER 2 dollars are in the works for planning with only smaller amounts spoken for at this time. He said the Northland Pines School Board has already approved some spending of ESSER 2 funds to help with student outcomes in the coming years. 

“The board has approved some remodeling of a couple classrooms that will now be able to be used more often, the purchase of apparatus for the Eagle River Elementary School playground that can be used for recess and for physical education classes, and a small covered outdoor classroom space at the middle and high school,” said Foster. 

“The board will be discussing staffing that will help impact learning with changing of positions and possibly adding positions to target core academics; this will be over the next few months as we continue to plan,” said Foster. “We are also looking at the social and emotional needs of our students and may look at how we can support the needs of students that way as well with staffing and programs.” 

Foster said ESSER 3 funding has some different rules than ESSER 1 and ESSER 2

“So we are finalizing the understanding of those rules so we can include these dollars with our ESSER 2 planning and maximize their impact as well,” said Foster. “Here again, one time dollars that can be used over multiple years.  We need to maximize the impact on student learning while simultaneously considering that we know those dollars are not forever. The ESSER dollars have and will continue to positively impact the learning and opportunities for the students of our district for the upcoming years.” 



Three Lakes plans

Three Lakes received $67,211 in ESSER I funds, zero in GEER funds, $288,996 in ESSER II and $649,006 in ESSER III.

Three Lakes District Administrator Teri Maney said the news of the funding has just been released and the district is waiting for more information. 

“While I do not have the plans laid out, it gives us the opportunity to fill some of the financial holes the impact of preparing our buildings through the HVAC and software system for increase air efficiency, addition of ionization purification in our systems, and many additional supplies to keep the buildings clean,” said Maney. “It is one time money, so some bigger purchases to support curriculum and possible learning challenges due to the past year will also be looked at closely.” 



Phelps ideas

Phelps School District, with 103 students, received $40,000 in ESSER I funds, $16,957 in GEER funds, $100,000 in ESSER II funds and $220,499 in ESSER III funds.

District Administrator Delnice Hill said since Phelps School District receives zero equalization general aid from Wisconsin, the district welcomes these additional funds through the CARES Act, GEER and ESSER funds from the federal government. 

“These funds will help us address some academic concerns, student mental wellness and social emotional learning. A percentage of the funds received are to be dedicated for those purposes,” said Hill. “To address those areas, Phelps administration, staff, parents and students will collaborate to find the best resources to help our students during this difficult time. It will also allow us to focus on improving our instruction and curriculum. Recommendations from this process will ultimately be considered by Phelps School Board.”

Hill said the remaining funds will be used when considering the district’s aging building systems.

“Systems being considered are the HVAC system and flooring. Both of these areas, if improved, will help mitigate COVID concerns. This will occur by having an efficient functioning HVAC system and tile floors that can be sanitized instead of carpeting,” said Hill. “The other area being considered is replacing the old windows to improve classroom ventilation. At this time, some of the old windows do not function as well and should be replaced. All of these systems are 25 years old or older. It would make sense to be proactive and update these areas without dipping into our fund balance.

Hill noted school districts have two years to complete their projects using these funds. 

“Unfortunately, it may take that long as school districts focus on similar projects overloading the capacity of companies to handle the increase in business. Also, the funds are not given to school districts up front. Projects must be completed before schools can receive reimbursement for those expenses,” she said.

Hill said she is hoping the state is not so tightly prescriptive on what the funds can be used for, leaving money on the table. She said that happened with the safety grants. 

“What those funds could be used for were so tightly controlled and with Phelps School District being proactive with safety projects, we could not use all of the money allotted. There was little or no chance to use it for something not on the list until it was too late,” said Hill, noting it is still early in the process on the coronavirus funding.

“We look forward to using the extra funding to make decisions to benefit Phelps School District in several areas,” said Hill. “Again, we welcome these funds and will use them to be proactive for our students and school building in representing our community.”