Needs for technology, sanitation and protective equipment precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic are prioritized uses of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding among school districts in central and southern Delaware.
The bulk of districts responding to a Delaware State News’ survey cited educational technology, sanitation efforts and personal protective equipment as primary uses of CARES Act funds during the coronavirus crisis.
Special education recovery, unique needs of special populations and staffing for hybrid learning were also among the areas utilizing CARES funding.
For example, the Smyrna School District has used the $649,967 it has received so far on addressing the unique needs of special populations and implementing activities during long-term closures, among other areas. And in the Seaford School District, one area where its $1,633,864 was used was for additional technology, like Chromebooks and adaptive equipment.
Nearly 11% of the First State’s $927.2 million in CARES Act funding issued last year was earmarked for the Department of Education. Delaware’s CARES Act funding is tracked through the state auditor’s office.
“Our office has provided a high-level fund tracker for the CARES Act funds since last fall,” said Amy Gulli, chief deputy auditor for the state’s Office of the Auditor of Accounts.
The CARES Act tracking site can be found at auditor.delaware.gov/fundtracker.
On May 26, Delaware State Auditor Kathy McGuiness announced another tracking program, Project: Gray Fox, a fiscal-accountability initiative aimed at tracking the $1.25 billion Delaware is receiving in American Rescue Plan Act funding.
A voluntary initiative, the Project: Gray Fox website will host a secure portal — powered by OpenGov, a leader in modern cloud software solutions for cities, counties and state agencies — that will allow government officials to enter their ARP spending quickly and efficiently each week.
For school districts, execution of this initiative is even easier, according to Ms. McGuiness.
“My office will be able to pull the necessary financial data directly from the state’s accounting system. That means that school officials will not even have to go to the portal each week to input their spending,” she said. “However, I hope they will use the online charts and graphs to compare and track spending with other districts.”
Ms. Gulli explained, “Because all 19 school districts use the state’s accounting system, ... our office will be able to pull the ARP spending information weekly for them and have that data charted and graphed automatically.”
She added that Project: Gray Fox is a separate initiative and will not incorporate CARES Act funds in its tracking. “For that tracker, we pull information weekly from the state’s accounting system to determine how much each of the state agencies/divisions has spent of its CARES Act funds,” she said.
Several school districts have indicated they definitely are on board with Project: Gray Fox.
“Sussex Tech is a strong supporter of increased transparency and openness, and we look forward to working with the auditor’s office on this project,” said district spokesman Dan Shortridge.
A Woodbridge School District official agreed.
“We look forward to working with Auditor McGuiness’ office to ensure that all spending in the Woodbridge School District is transparent to our taxpayers,” said district Superintendent Heath Chasanov.
Indian River School District Superintendent Dr. Jay Owens also shared optimism.
“We encourage transparency in the district’s expenditure of all public funding, including ARP,” he said. “We are pleased to cooperate with the state auditor of accounts in this initiative to make data on our expenditure of ARP funding available to the public.”
School districts were allowed some flexibility in allocating CARES Act funds, and the state put out reopening guidance that emphasized things such as air flow, signage, etc.
According to DOE spokeswoman Alison May, for the CARES Act, there were 12 listed uses of funds, while the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act and the ARP showed 15.
“However, the ‘additional’ uses of funds for CRRSA and ARP were already permitted under the CARES Act,” she said.
The accompanying chart, based on data received in April, is a snapshot of how CARES funding has been spent in school districts in Kent and Sussex counties.