Berkeley Co. School District moving quickly to spend federal COVID relief money

Published: Mar. 3, 2022 at 2:55 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 3, 2022 at 7:21 PM EST
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BERKELEY COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - The Berkeley County School District is moving full steam ahead in spending its allocation of federal COVID relief money. The district was given $72.53 million of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund money to play with, and it has already allocated nearly 74 percent of that money, according to the state’s ESSER funds tracking dashboard.

Ashley Smith is the Chief Financial Officer for the Berkley County School District. She says the district had purchased an assessment tool to help identify student needs before ESSER III money was even announced.

She says it helped them streamline the process.

“The focus was mainly on our students and getting those long-term benefits from the extra funds. And since we were able to already identify those needs it was a little bit easier for us to set aside those funds and go ahead and move quickly in the process,” Smith said.

Berkeley County has allocated the largest percentage of its COVID-19 relief dollars of any Tri-County district, which the exception of Dorchester District 4, which has allocated almost 80 percent of its $8.24 million.

While BCSD and DD4 have allocated large portions of their funds, none of them have been spent just yet. Alternatively, Dorchester District 2 has allocated around 52 percent of its $40.53 million and spent another $1.67 million according to the state website.

The Charleston County School District is still working on how it will spend its ESSER III money. The district is the second largest school district in the state and received more federal money than any other district. However, it has neither allocated nor spent any of that money according to the tracking dashboard. It has spent and allocated all of its ESSER 1 and 2 funds.

CCSD is currently working through a community engagement process that will culminate in a presentation to the school board with recommendations at the end of April.

Smith says BCSD was able to hit the ground running with an early survey of how parents would like to see the money spent and a series of capital projects waiting to be funded.

“We had about 2,400 responses in our community survey and the highest areas that we saw from the community was the learning loss piece and improvements to our facilities,” Smith said.

Each district is required to spend at least 20 percent of its ESSER III funds on learning loss, but the rest can go to almost anything. While that means the district needs to spend about $14 million on learning loss, it has allocated almost $20 million. Much of that money is going to continuing to fund ESSER II projects like the hiring of 58 third grade instructional assistants.

“Academic remediation was definitely the highest number that we saw from our community that they wanted us to address with ESSER III funding,” Smith said. “Classified interventionists was also extremely high on the list, and also training for educators which is a part of that learning loss piece.”

There’s $9.4 million for technology which includes the purchase of 4,000 Chromebooks and hot spots. However, building projects take the largest portion of the allocated money so far at around $22 million.

“So that is nine roofing projects at schools,” Smith said. “That also includes HVAC replacements and that’s at 29 locations and then every single school in our district is going to be painted inside and out. So that is what covered that’s what is in the $22 million.”

Smith says the painting projects are more than just cosmetic. The new paint will have low levels of volatile organic compound that will improve air quality.

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