Gwinnett school districts make plans for COVID-19 relief money

During digital learning days at the end of last school year, most Buford City Schools students relied on personal computers and laptops to complete class assignments. With coronavirus relief funds to supplement the budget, the school system has purchased enough Chromebooks so that every student will have their own to use. (COURTESY OF BUFORD CITY SCHOOLS)
During digital learning days at the end of last school year, most Buford City Schools students relied on personal computers and laptops to complete class assignments. With coronavirus relief funds to supplement the budget, the school system has purchased enough Chromebooks so that every student will have their own to use. (COURTESY OF BUFORD CITY SCHOOLS)

Gwinnett County Public Schools and Buford City Schools are making plans for additional federal coronavirus relief money, according to officials.

That’s on top of money the Gwinnett County board of commissioners had left over from the coronavirus relief bill signed in March. Facing a year-end deadline to spend the funds, the county commission last month split $1 million between both school districts based on their enrollment, allocating about $970,000 to the county school district and nearly $30,000 to the Buford district.

Congress passed a second coronavirus aid package in December granting a year-long extension to spend the March funds. School districts will get the county commission money as promised.

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The Gwinnett school district will spend the the bulk of the $32 million received in the spring on personal protective equipment, including masks, face shields, gowns, gloves, desk shields, sanitizer, cleaning supplies and signs in schools, according to Joe Heffron, the chief financial officer.

Some of that money will be used to purchase hot spots and Chromebooks for students, pay for employee leave related to COVID-19 and the school nutrition program, Heffron said.

“We are, in essence, in the midst of spending a good bit of that this fiscal year,” he said.

The Gwinnett County Public Schools Foundation, a charitable organization that provides resources and support to students, also received $698,000 in coronavirus relief funding from the county in November, which was spent on digital equipment for students, said Heffron, who doubles as the foundation’s treasurer.

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Gwinnett County Public Schools is expected to receive $125.7 million from the December relief package, with a spending deadline of September 2023. The district plans to spend the money on academic, social and emotional learning for students who have been attending virtually and those who come back to school after becoming unreachable during the pandemic, Heffron said.

Gwinnett reopened buildings this school year for those whose families chose in-person learning, but the district is studying what new expenses might be necessary to bring more students back, he said.

“We are just in the planning stages of how we would utilize that funding,” he said.

Additional federal funding could come from President Joe Biden’s proposed economic stimulus plan, depending on what Congress decides. That proposal includes about $130 billion to help schools reopen safely.

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Heffron said school districts, including Gwinnett, don’t know how much they would receive under Biden’s proposal or what they’d be allowed to spend it on.

In addition to the money from the county commission, Buford City Schools received more than $480,000 from the March coronavirus relief bill and $1.6 million from December bill, according to school district documents. The school district’s largest expenditures so far from COVID-19 relief funding include technology and plastic dividers for students as well as hazard pay and training stipends for employees.

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