HUNTSVILLE — Members of the Scott County Board of Education will have to make a decision by the end of the month on whether to fund a new gym at Fairview School as part of the third round of ESSER funding.
Replacing the aging gym at Fairview has been on the wish list for several administrators and board members as federal funding has been made available to the school system, helping to fund a series of projects that would otherwise have had to wait.
ESSER stands for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund, federal money that has been designated to address the impact of Covid-19 on public schools.
Under ESSER 3.0, the Scott County School System has been allocated nearly $8 million. The Oneida Special School District was allocated almost $2.4 million. The funds must be spent over a period of three years, ending June 30, 2024. At least 20% of the funding — $1.6 million for the county school system — must be spent to address learning loss.
The school system has gathered input through a variety of ways, including a survey that generated 404 responses from families and teachers. The top concerns from those responding to the survey were learning loss, school facility repairs, facility needs and school maintenance. The schools that received the highest concern were Scott High School, Fairview and Huntsville Elementary.
At Scott High, respondents wanted a new school, upgrades to plumbing and bathrooms, and additional classrooms. At Fairview, the new gym was top priority, followed by sewer improvements and updates to the school in general. At Huntsville Elementary, the top concerns were a playroom, bathrooms and classrooms.
Other needs indicated on the survey were pre-k classrooms for Burchfield, which are already in the works, as well as additional classrooms. And, for Huntsville Middle, new lockers and paint.
At Tuesday’s monthly work session of the Board of Education, Amanda Stevens — the school system’s federal programs director — presented board members with two budgets: one that included a new gym at Fairview and one that did not.
The issue is that Fairview School is the last school in the county with a substandard gymnasium. The gym is not only aging, but is also by far the smallest gym in the county, and Fairview has been left behind as new gyms have been built at Winfield, Burchfield and Robbins as part of new school or school expansion projects at each of those locations.
The problem is that a new gym would be a significant expense. It is estimated that a gym would cost $3.2 million, or nearly half of the ESSER funding. Throw in a couple of new classrooms at $125,000 each — something that Stevens said would help the county’s plan to build a new gym past the muster of oversight at the state level, although Director of Schools Bill Hall said he felt the new gym would be approved even without the new classrooms — and that price tag swells to $3.5 million.
Stevens’ budget included $2.7 million for learning loss programs, or about 34% of the total — well above the 20% required by the federal government. It also included $249,800 for learning acceleration programs, $1.3 million for educational technology purchases, $1.96 million for school facility repairs, $476,300 for mental health support, $185,279 for instructional materials to boost early literacy, $407,892 for miscellaneous other activities, and $700,000 for indirect costs.
Among the learning loss programs budgeted through Stevens’ proposal was a math coach for three years, four teachers for a TN ALL Corps program, two learning loss teachers for Scott High, a teacher assistant for tutoring at Scott High, ACT Saturday tutoring sessions, ACT prep materials for students attending those Saturday tutoring sessions, and supplemental reading materials for special education teachers.
Among the school facility repairs budgeted by Stevens were awning extensions at Burchfield, Huntsville Elementary and Winfield, HVAC replacements at each school, including major HVAC renovations at Scott High, new playground equipment and a few miscellaneous items.
Among the learning loss programs budgeted by Stevens were the hire of four additional special education teaching assistants for three years, summer learning camps for 2022, bridge camps for the summer of 2023, after-school enrichment programs for students who don’t participate in sports, and additional software and materials.
Other items funded in Stevens’ budget included software purchases, an additional school nurse for three years, water bottle filling stations in each school cafeteria and hand sanitizer stations outside those cafeterias, the purchase of medical supplies such as masks, the purchase of cleaning supplies, and additional training for special education teachers.
If a gym at Fairview were to be funded with the ESSER allocation, however, things would change to make room for the $3.5 million in new facilities. Axed would be the four additional special education teaching assistants and the summer learning camp funding, the after-school enrichment programs, the teacher assistant for tutoring at Scott High, the Saturday ACT tutoring, and the major HVAC renovations at Scott High, as well as the purchase of HVAC wall units at Winfield and the purchase of new playground equipment.
However, there are other caveats to consider. Stevens said it’s possible to move forward with new funding for a gym at Fairview, at $3.2 million, while returning the remaining $250,000 for two new classrooms to the budget to fund some of the things she originally proposed. And as for the summer camps for 2022, Stevens said she felt the state would fund those programs next year, but had included them in her ESSER budget as a safety measure.
If Stevens’ alternative budget were approved and a new gym were to be built at Fairview, the total spending on learning loss programs would be $1.72 million, still slightly more than the 20% required by the feds.
“If you don’t want to do classrooms, we don’t have to do classrooms. If you don’t want to do a gym, we don’t have to do that either,” Stevens told board members.
Hall echoed those sentiments, saying that the school board could approve funding for a new gym at Fairview with or without including the new classrooms.
“I feel like it will be approved anyway,” Hall said of a new gym at Fairview garnering a go-ahead from the state.
A final budget for the ESSER funding has to be approved by Aug. 27.
“At some point we’re going to have to make a decision on what you want to do,” Stevens said.
The school board’s monthly meeting is on Aug. 12.