Eagle County School District plans for end of COVID relief funding | VailDaily.com

Eagle County School District plans for end of COVID relief funding

The emergency funds brought in over $10 million, with the remaining funds related to just over 22 full-time positions

During the pandemic, the local Eagle County School District received emergency funding to provide the supplies and resources needed to support its students, staff and schools. Now, as the funds are running out, there's a question as to how (or if) some of the supports provided by these funds can continue.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily archive

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal and state government deployed various relief funds to help businesses, public entities and organizations survive. For public K-12 schools, the majority of these funds came from the Department of Education’s Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Fund (also known as ESSER).

These funds allowed for districts to add resources and supports — sometimes through new positions — to address not only the pandemic but also its impact on students’ learning. However, as the pandemic wanes and these funds run dry, there’s still a question mark as to what (if anything) will replace these emergency funds to allow some of the support systems and positions to continue.

Adding support, resources

The local Eagle County School District received just over $10 million in emergency relief through three rounds of ESSER funding from the federal government (and two ESSER supplementals) and one batch from the statewide Coronavirus Relief fund.

Now, the district has approximately $1.6 million of this funding remaining.

While these funds must be spent by September 2024, the local district has budgeted for the remaining funds to be expended by Sept. 30, 2023, according to Sandy Farrell, its chief operating officer.

Support Local Journalism

From the onset of the pandemic, these funds allowed the district to implement necessary precautions and resources, including numerous additional faculty positions, to work through the pandemic.

“These funds provided resources needed to effectively and efficiently respond to the basic student, staff and community needs during the pandemic,” Farrell said.

Each round of ESSER funding had broad parameters on how the funds were to be spent. The first was allocated toward immediate health and operational challenges, the second supported safe operations of schools, and the third provided support for students to recover from learning loss, with two supplementals specifically for special education student supports.

The funding amounts were as follows:

  • Colorado Relief Fund: just over $4 million
  • ESSER I: just over $488,000
  • ESSER II: just over $1.7 million
  • ESSER II supplemental: just over $56,000
  • ESSER III: Just over $3.85 million
  • ESSER III supplemental: just over $45,000

According to Farrell, the district used these various rounds for the purchase of resources such as “personal protective equipment, remote meals, options for social distancing, educating remotely, and working remotely whenever needed.” It also allowed the district to purchase technology and curriculum (including professional development for educators) for the transition to remote learning.

Plus, it allowed the district to bring in additional staff to meet various emerging needs. Farrell said this included permanent substitute teachers “to support staff leaves and multiple unfilled positions;” extra custodial safe with the increased sanitation, disinfecting requirements and unfilled positions; and interventionists and MTSS (multi-tiered system of supports) coordinators “to help address learning loss due to COVID.”

In total, the remaining funds — totaling $1,667,607.40 — are related to 22.55 full-time positions “for intervention, credit recovery and permanent subs for the remainder of the fiscal year and extended school year for exceptional student services.”

Last year, the district’s accountability committee — which it is required by the state to have — identified the loss of these funds as one of its top challenges in the school years ahead. Already, as the funds expired, the district lost seven full-time staff members at the end of last school year.

One of the primary values of these dollars and positions is seen in the district’s expansion of its MTSS system — a prevention-based framework used to evaluate and address areas of student need — over the past few years.

“It feels like in our schools that we have, for the first time, we truly have the FTE (full-time equivalency) that we need to implement a robust MTSS system. And we have that due to the ESSER funds, which is fantastic,” said Marcie Laidman, the former district accountability committee chair and principal of Red Sandstone Elementary, during a March 2022 presentation to the Board of Education.

“We have those great systems in place and those systems are supported by great teachers. We need to make sure that when those funds subside that we have a place in the district for the teachers that are in those positions currently … What a difference it has made at all of the levels,” she added.

Even more specifically, Melisa Rewold Thuon, the district’s assistant superintendent of student support services, recently told the Vail Daily that the ESSER funds supported much-needed math interventions, “which we did not have staffing available to do prior to the ESSER funding,” she said.

“Unfortunately, many of these positions will be cut next year with the fading out of the COVID Recovery Funds,” Rewold Thuon added.

Options for the future

However, as these emergency funds run dry, the district is still working out its options for some of the supports and positions provided by the funds.

“(Eagle County School District) is continuing to discuss options to continue providing some of the services through any new funding via the School Finance Act and/or grants,” Farrell said. “However, any new funding via the School Finance Act allocated to additional FTE (full-time equivalency) reduces the amount of funding available to attract and retain staff through increased wages and benefits.”  

With the knowledge that the funds would always run out, Farrell said the district “strategically planned to provide programming and resources to address learning loss as quickly as possible.”

The local district receives the majority (approximately 71%) of its annual funding from the Colorado School Finance Act.

Support Local Journalism