How Saginaw Public Schools spent $27M of COVID relief money

(The Center Square) – As students statewide return to the classroom, Michigan school districts have spent some of nearly $6 billion allocated to help students recover from COVID-19.

Michigan schools have spent $1.4 billion, or just over 25% of the $5.7 billion in the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, part of several federal relief packages enacted in 2020 and 2021.

The federal data includes grant funds awarded and expended by local agencies but not planned school funding.

The Center Square has submitted more than 50 records requests to Michigan schools statewide for COVID-19 spending. More than 800 districts accepted relief money.

For example, as of June 30, 2022, Saginaw Public Schools District has spent about $27.4 million out of a total of $64 million, to help about 5,000 students. The district spent $16.4 million, or about 60%, of the $27.3 million spending to reclassify teachers, with another $27.9 million budgeted.

Tamara Johnson, SPSD Deputy Superintendent of Fiscal Services, hasn’t responded to calls or emails from The Center Square by the time of story publication about why the district plans to send $44 million out of $64 million apparently reclassifying teachers.

Reclassification often means adjusting an employee pay grade depending on experience.

SPSD Superintendent Ramont M. Roberts said in an Aug. 29 welcome letter to students and families that the 2022-23 school year will continue with 2:1 Chromebook ratios for students, lower student to teacher ratios for each classroom, and additional course offerings and support.

“We will continue to deliver the curriculum both digitally and through traditional hard copy formats as we have seen significant growth in our students on local assessment data,” Roberts said. “Based on that data, we are confident that delivering the curriculum with both options will provide the necessary rigor and resources that will enable us to continue to increase student achievement and to ensure that our students are college and/or career ready.”

SPSD spent $1.3 million on summer school, $300,000 on a literacy program, $209,000 on Edmentum/Read 180 and system licenses, $207,000 on Eureka math, and $18,774 on social workers. About $830,000 was paid to an academic interventionist.

The district spent $3.8 million for technology upgrades and $1.6 million for camera upgrades.

Another $98,000 funded internet costs, and the district paid more than $15,000 for hotspots for families. Much of the spending is related to technology, including headphones for grades prekindergarten through sixth, math programs, and other online education licenses.

In COVID-19 prevention spending, Saginaw spent $136,000 for sanitizing stations; $75,000 for touchless water fountains; $67,000 for building foggers; $38,000 for thermometers; $36,000 for personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies; and $35,000 for masks.

The district has spent $53,000 on a district nurse, $190,805 on private schools, and has budgeted to pay $750,000 on community collaboration.

Some spending seems unrelated to COVID-19. SPSD spent $4,808 for an esports program, $30,000 on a cultural consultant, and budgeted a total of $1.9 million to replace elevators. The school also budgeted $1.3 million for new building furniture and spent more than $800,000 on a line item described as “indirect costs,” as well as $5,595 on a microfilm machine.

SPSD has $37.2 million of ESSER remaining with a spending deadline in 2024.

SPSD’s proposed original budget for 2022-23 was $55 million, which the one-time federal relief more than doubled, temporarily, but will run out after 2024.