District 518 plans how to use its federal ARPA funds strategically

·3 min read

Jan. 23—WORTHINGTON — District 518 received $5.68 million in federal funding meant to soften the impact of COVID-19, and plans to use that money include adding staff positions, purchasing educational supplies and services and facility updates.

"We're trying to be strategic," said John Landgaard, superintendent of District 518.

The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief money was part of the American Rescue Plan Act, initially signed into law on March 11, 2021.

"We're fortunate because we're able to use these dollars to support kids academically," Landgaard said. "And it allows us to meet some of the overall needs of the district and do some transitioning as we add another building."

Asked if the funding would mitigate the damage from the pandemic, Landgaard said it would help, but cautioned people against expecting immediate fixes.

"People don't realize that (with) student learning loss, this isn't going to get corrected overnight. This is more like one, two or three years," he said. "There are kids who will catch up quickly and address their learning loss, and there are kids who will take a little more time."

A large portion of the school's ESSER funding — $2.5 million — has been budgeted for facility needs, along with long-term facilities maintenance funding of $1.25 million.

The biggest chunk of that $3.75 million total is $1.9 million, which will be used to replace four air handling units at Worthington High School.

Another $942,500 will replace an air chiller at Prairie Elementary, which will also see a new control system and large pieces of equipment such as floor scrubbers.

District 518 has already added about half a dozen positions and hired staff for them this year, and another half-dozen will likely be hired next year, Landgaard said.

While the federal money will run out, he said, the school district would likely have needed to add some of those jobs anyway. For example, some of the new employees would have been needed to staff the new Intermediate School, and others would have been needed due to enrollment growth in the district.

The new positions will not disappear once the ESSER funding is spent, Landgaard said. Instead, they will be paid for through the school's general fund, part of which comes from local property taxes and part of which comes from the state of Minnesota on a per-student basis.

"What we're trying to avoid is that very thing: having a taxpayer impact," Landgaard said.

Staffing increases listed on the district's ESSER budget plan are projected to cost $2.77 million over two years, and include three interventionists for Prairie Elementary, two counselors for Worthington Middle School, a FACS position to be shared between Worthington High School and the Learning Center, a math position and a CTE position at WHS, as well as a special education teacher for the district's online program. Additionally, there's a budgeted increase for art positions at WMS and the Learning Center.

The budget for staffing increases also includes funding for district technology positions, a district school improvement position, a behavior specialist, a director of instruction, a human resources position, a nurse, math intervention personnel and a contract for education technology.

In addition to the $2.77 million for staffing increases, District 518 plans to spend $410,000 on educational supplies, materials and services.

That includes putting $100,000 toward technology equipment, which can include iPads and printers but also less-visible equipment such as switches and routers. Essentially, any hardware would fall under that category.

Education transportation is also listed as a cost of $100,000, which will cover the costs for extra transportation for kids. That could mean bringing students to after-school programming or providing transportation for longer distances, removing barriers for students so that they have more opportunities.

Other supplies on the District's shopping list are computer-based programs for boosting math and reading skills and curriculum materials for reading and STEM — all subjects that saw student test scores drop nationwide as the COVID-19 pandemic struck schools.