When President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 last week, he pretty much guaranteed that Eden Prairie Schools will be in line for its share of $1.9 trillion in stimulus money.
The Eden Prairie School District has already received more than $3.4 million in COVID relief funds. Another estimated $2.8 million is expected from the relief package passed in January. The district is awaiting guidance from the Minnesota Department of Education about the exact amount and allowable uses for those funds, according to Jason Mutzenberger, Eden Prairie School District executive director of business services.
The first allocation, part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, provided the district with $990,367 for allowable uses from March 2020 through Sept. 2022. All of that money has been spent, Mutzenberger said.
The Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), part of the CARES Act, allocated another $2.4 million. All of that money was spent before the Dec. 31, 2020 deadline. That funding was used for costs necessary for getting children back to school, with a priority on safety, Mutzenberger said.
Approved uses of stimulus funds
Eligible uses of the CARES Act funding included educational technology, mental health services and meeting specific needs of students from historically underserved populations, Mutzenberger said.
Most of the funds were spent to help prevent, prepare for and respond to COVID-19; provide personal protective equipment (PPE) and supplies to clean and disinfect schools; and to support after school and summer school programming.
Some of the expenditures included:
- more than $400,000 on PPE and cleaning.
- $300,000 on technology (includes Webcams and related supplies for teachers, virtual meeting licenses, devices for staff and online programs to support distance learning environment).
- air filters and repairs on the building ventilation system at Eden Prairie High School.
- salary and benefit costs for additional EP Online teachers.
- additional substitute teacher costs.
- wages for staff supporting the all-day essential worker childcare program.
- additional nurse and nurse support.
- replacement of furniture that did not allow for appropriate cleaning techniques or supporting of social distancing.
- food, packaging supplies and staff time to provide meals to anyone age 0-18 living in the community.
The district was able to purchase and install MERV-14 filters at Eden Prairie High School. “When looking at other sites, both our HVAC consultant and the air filter vendor recommended not installing (them) at the other sites because they exceeded (the) manufacturer’s recommendation of MERV-11,” Mutzenberger said.
Under those circumstances, MERV-14 filters are too dense and will restrict airflow and cause stress on the mechanical units, he said. “Replacements of the actual mechanical units would have been far too expensive,” he continued. “So, we’ve relied on a variety of mitigation strategies to keep students and staff safe.”
MERV stands for Minimum Effective Reporting Value and is a measurement of how small the holes are in a filter. A MERV-14 is two steps away from a HEPA filter which captures more than 99.9% of airborne particles of 0.3 microns in size, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A MERV-14 captures 75% of particles from 0.3 to 1.0 microns.
More funding coming
The American Rescue Plan provides $128 billion to K-12 schools nationwide to help students return to classrooms, according to various media reports. Schools would be allowed to use the money to update ventilation systems, reduce class sizes to helps implement social distancing, buy PPE and hire support staff. It also specifies that schools use at least 20% of the money to address learning loss by providing extended days or summer school.
As of March 15, the district had received no details about the amount of stimulus funding it might receive from the most recent package, Mutzenberger said.
The district’s general fund – 87 percent of which consists of salaries and benefits – likely won’t benefit significantly from stimulus funds because their use is restricted to certain expenses.
“Therefore, (stimulus money) is unlikely to ‘beef up’ the general fund as we simply cannot use any of these funds for normal operating expenses,” Mutzenberger said.
Not over yet
Even though all Eden Prairie students will be able to return to brick-and-mortar classrooms as of March 22, many staff members have been vaccinated over the past few weeks, and community infection rates are dropping, the costs and impacts of COVID-19 are not expected to end just yet.
Stimulus funds received so far have not covered all costs related to COVID-19, Mutzenberger said. Community Education and food service are among areas that have been impacted with little additional funding to support them. That likely will continue, he said.
“We fully expect to continue having Covid related costs for PPE, custodial supplies, social distancing requirements, and other items in order to meet the requirements that governing bodies mandate,” he said.