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TUPELO • The Lee County School District will use its allocation of federal coronavirus funds to help struggling students, upgrade the district’s technology infrastructure, and fund construction projects intended to make the schools safer.

The Lee County Schools board of trustees on Monday evening approved a budget for the district’s $4.2 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER II) funding. ESSER II funding is part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act passed by Congress in December 2020.

Chris Conwill, the district’s Federal Programs Director, said the district’s ESSER II budget items are broken down into two sections: general and construction.

Many of the projects the district is set to begin with ESSER II funding will be completed or extended using ESSER III funding. The district’s approximately $9.4 million in ESSER III funding will be allocated and ready to spend after approval by the board in fall 2021.

General funds

Under the umbrella of general use, the district set aside $560,000 to pay for instructional staff and materials for struggling students who participated in a three-week summer school program which began June 7 and will conclude on Friday, June 25.

Having been recommended by teachers, 727 kindergarten through 12th grade students currently attend Lee County’s 2021 summer school. Those in kindergarten through eighth grades participated in remediation, while ninth through twelfth graders also had the chance at credit recovery for classes they failed to earn a passing grade in last year.

Summer school has been a major success, Conwill said, and will continue in the future with additional federal funding. Twenty percent of the upcoming ESSER III funds must be used to address learning loss, so summer school for 2022 through 2024 will be paid for with those funds.

Nearly $540,000 will be used to upgrade technology infrastructure throughout the district, like servers and Internet access points, which were strained by an increased number of student devices in use. Another $28,000 will be used to upgrade the district’s content filter, giving teachers greater flexibility in controlling which websites students can access in the classroom.

The district set aside up to $1.1 million to purchase laptops for all instructional staff. A majority of employees only have a desktop computer currently, and the goal is to replace those with laptops so the devices can be used at school and at home as needed, Conwill said.

The $1.1 million estimate is based on the single unit price for laptops. School district officials believe the actual cost should be significantly lower after the district conducts a reverse auction to purchase the new technology.

Money remaining from laptop allocations will be put towards upgrading the district’s HVAC system.

Each school in the district was given a nearly $28 allocation per student to meet each campus’s unique needs, for a total of $175,000. The money can be spent on things like online programs, supplies and tutoring.

To make the cafeteria process more efficient, scanners and tablets totaling about $23,500 will be added to school lunchrooms to decrease common touch points and speed up lines and reduce the amount of time students are standing in close proximity to one another.

STEM equipment like an ALEX Patient Communication Simulator will be purchased for the Lee County CTE building, which is set to open this fall. The $68,000 of equipment will be used in classes when clinical and on-site visits are not an option, as they have been during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For teachers who use programs like Google Classroom and would like to earn Google Certifications, the district has set aside $1,000 to pay for course work and assessment fees.

Construction funds

The district will use $1.3 million to upgrade to newer HVAC units that increase air quality by pulling air from outside rather than recycling air from room to room. ESSER II funds will cover three or four campuses, determined by PryorMorrow, that need upgrades the most. The remaining district HVAC upgrades will be paid for with ESSER III funds.

Windows on older campuses will be replaced to allow for more fresh air to flow into classrooms. $100,000 has been set aside to begin that project and the rest will be replaced with ESSER III funds.

All carpet will be removed from schools and replaced with hard surface flooring to improve the staff’s ability to thoroughly clean those surfaces. The carpet removal will begin with primary and elementary schools, and the $200,000 allocated to that project should be enough to cover those schools. ESSER III funds will cover removal and replacement at middle and high schools.

Although there are already bottle filling stations installed at every school in the district, $52,000 has been set aside to add at least more stations in each campus in the district, with a goal of having one on every hallway.

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