The Stone County School District is projecting revenue shortfalls, despite COVID-19 funding for reopening.

The district held a hearing for the 2020-2021 budget Monday evening on July 27.

“We won’t get the full funding,” said Cassie Hardy, the district business manager.

Hardy said district revenue is already down $61,000—about 1 percent—from last year.

She said state funding has yet to be allocated, but that amount is also projected to be less than last year.

Hardy said the district’s operating budget is based on receiving 85 percent of projected funds from local taxes.

“We decided to go low, just in case,” Superintendent Inita Owen said.

Local taxes are up less than one percent and federal funding is up more than four percent.

The district’s budget is based on $24,771,903, with about 51 percent from state funds, 19 percent from federal funds, and the remaining 28 percent from local funds.

Total budget expenses are listed as $26,493,551.

Most of the federal increase is from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, a part of the federal CARES Act relief fund that is dedicated to helping schools reopen safely.

But the district must invest upfront before funds can be retrieved.

“We spend (ESSERF funds) out of district funds first and then they reimburse us,” Owen said.

The maximum amount the district could be reimbursed for with the COVID-19 relief funding is $768, 970.

Owen said the district has purchased sanitizers, face masks, thermometers, plexiglass panels, face shields for teachers, and other daily supplies and services.

Additionally, the district is enlisting another nurse and more funding for janitorial services to sanitize buildings.

“I don’t want to use the word ‘Price-gouging,’ but it is price-gouging because what used to cost $4, now costs $12,” Owen said. “It is astronomical what people can charge.”

Any ESSERF funds must be used for planning and coordinating long term closures, which includes technology for online learning for all students.

“Additional funds are set aside for technology,” Owen said.

Owen said she wants to use ESSERF funds for hotspots on school buses and electronic devices to provide students because many students do not have internet access outside of the city limits.

Owen said the district looked into purchasing laptops for students in case teaching went virtual, but the necessary models are on backorder until February.

She added the district is still interested in provided students with devices with what funding is leftover.

The district has $618,043 set aside strictly for supplies, with $150,000 leftover for other needs.

“This sounds like a lot of money, but it goes fast,” Owen said.

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