Franklin schools OKs $2.1M in CARES Act 2 spending

Several months after Congress passed CARES Act 2, Franklin schools now has a plan for the money it received as part of the federal relief package.

The more than $2.1 million from round two of the CARES Act will reimburse Franklin Community Schools for pandemic-related expenses, expand school services, provide stipends and upgrade aging infrastructure.

Congress passed the $900 billion stimulus package in December. The package included business grants, direct payments to Americans and funding for local governments and schools.

Last week, the Franklin Community Schools Board of Trustees unanimously approved the district’s spending plan.

The largest chunk of funding — about $800,000 — will be used to upgrade an HVAC at Webb Elementary School. It was already set for an upgrade, but CARES Act 2 allows the district to pay for it with federal dollars, said Tina Gross, the district’s chief financial officer.

More than $636,000 will provide a one-time 2% stipend to teachers and staff in recognition of the hard work and adjustments they made to work during the pandemic, Gross said.

Teachers and administrators will receive 2% of their contract salaries, while hourly staff members will receive 2% of their earnings between June 1, 2020 and June 1, 2021, she said.

All employees who made at least $2,500 are eligible for the stipend.

More than $210,000 will fund the first year of salaries, taxes and benefits for several new teaching positions, including reimbursement for virtual teachers hired earlier this year and new developmental preschool teaching positions, Gross said.

Three additional therapy dogs will be purchased with $96,000, which includes the cost of the dogs, training for their handlers and one year of equipment, food and supplies. The three new dogs will bring the district’s therapy dog count to five.

Current therapy dogs Hiro, assigned to Northwood Elementary, and Millie, assigned to Webb Elementary, started working with the district in the fall. The two labradoodles are beloved by students at the schools and visit other buildings to provide a calming presence as needed.

The additional dogs may go to work sometime next school year, but the timeline will depend on when the puppies are born, trained and ready to work, said Robin Betts, spokesperson for the district.

One will be assigned to Creekside Elementary, but no decisions have been made regarding other assignments, Betts said.

About $398,000 will reimburse unexpected expenses the district incurred earlier in the pandemic to conduct school safely at home and in person, Gross said.

Expenses include more than $100,000 to purchase WiFi hotspots and upgrade school internet speeds, $92,000 in software purchases, and $75,000 for computers, radios and video conferencing equipment.

About $55,000 will reimburse the district for tents it purchased for each building to hold outdoor instruction and give students an all-weather space for mask breaks.

More than $71,000 will reimburse the district for emergency FMLA that was used when school employees had to quarantine or care for others due to actual or potential COVID-19 infection. The district actually has to pay about double this, but sought half to recoup some of the cost, Gross said.

The final $17,000 will provide stipends for teachers who volunteered to tutor students who needed help preparing for this year’s iRead-3 test. iRead-3 is a state reading assessment that students take in third grade.

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Here is at look at how Franklin Community Schools plans to spend the $2.1 million it received last year as part of CARES Act 2:

Webb HVAC: $800,000

Appreciation stipend: $636,839

New teacher positions: $210,448

Internet access: $101,970

Therapy dogs: $96,000

Software: $92,935

Technology: $75,952

FMLA: $71,891

Tents: $55,240

iRead tutoring: $17,192

Source: Franklin Community Schools