Santa Rosa County School District lost more than $300,000 in federal CARES Act funding, blaming a “midstream” change in a grant period. Now some taxpayers are questioning why the district is pulling Title 1 money from low-income school budgets to help cover the loss.
Federal Title 1 money is available to schools in which low-income families comprise at least 40 percent enrollment. The money goes toward efforts such as afterschool tutoring, homeless and poverty education and weekend food backpack programs.
In Santa Rosa County, 19 schools qualify for Title 1 funding: Bagdad Elementary, Benny Russell Elementary, Berryhill Elementary, Central School, Chumuckla Elementary, East Milton Elementary, Hobbs Middle School, Holley-Navarre Primary, Holley-Navarre Intermediate, Jay Elementary, King Middle, Milton High, Pea Ridge Elementary, S. S. Dixon Intermediate, S. S. Dixon Primary, W. H. Rhodes Elementary, West Navarre Primary, Santa Rosa High and The Learning Academy (Charter School).
“Our local citizens are entitled to know why this money is being taken from the schools and exactly how it is being spent,” stated Pace resident Donna Anderson, who went on to assert “S.S. Dixon Primary is losing nearly ($30,000 in) Title 1 funds.”
The issue starting coming to light during the 2022-2023 budgeting process.
Superintendent Karen Barber during the Santa Rosa School Board’s June 16 budget workshop asked Assistant Superintendent for Finance Susan McCole to provide an update on ESSER funding, which is Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief via CARES Act funding for which the State of Florida handles some administration.
“When we applied for the ESSER grants we were told they would last until (2023-2024),” McCole said.“We got notification a couple of months ago that the state had decided they were going to pull back (certain unused funds),” McCole said. “So suddenly we’re told those funds won’t be available next year.”
McCole said some employees coded to ESSER grants were able to be “recoded” to Title 1, enabling the district to utilize around $500,000. “We had to do lots of maneuvering around, which was allowable.”
However, the district still lost more than $300,000 in ESSER funding which was unable to be reallocated.
“Those dollars aren’t lost forever, okay. They’ll just be pulled back and part of a new application, and we’ll apply for them again,” Barber said. “I don’t know why they changed the grant period midstream, but that’s what happened.”
McCole said that state’s ESSER funding reallocation will be for “very” specific purposes like “summer stuff.”
Meanwhile, Santa Rosa’s Title 1 schools are left to deal with the shortfall.
“(The schools) are being told they can do fundraising to make up for the lost funds in order to purchase programs and technology that they have been using in the past,” Anderson said. “Those funds should be directly benefitting the students and families of our community and not (creating) more unnecessary jobs at the county office such as teachers on special assignments.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: As of publication, Santa Rosa County School District has not yet responded to an information request seeking details about the number of administrators hired within the past year and the number of employees who had been paid for two years through ESSER funding, including teachers on special assignment.