Cobb schools Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said this week that he plans to ask the Cobb County Board of Commissioners for additional CARES Act funding to help fill a district budget hole that is expected to be tens of millions of dollars when a statewide budget is finalized.
Marietta schools Superintendent Grant Rivera says his district has also submitted a request.
CARES Act funding for a markedly different school year
The CARES, or Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, is a law intended to address the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ragsdale brought the suggestion up during a school board meeting Thursday, noting the funding will be “very important” when Cobb schools return to class Aug. 3.
The superintendents of both the Cobb and Marietta school districts announced Thursday they will return to school in early August, providing parents an option to send their children to school in person or virtually. Both districts also say in-person school will include encouragement of mask-wearing for staff and students, ramped-up sanitation procedures, temperature checks for students and staff and other health and safety measures.
Both districts said they received last month a portion of the $411 million in federal funding provided to Georgia in efforts to help local school districts shore up their budgets and programs as coronavirus continues pummeling the state’s economy.
Out of the money provided to the state, the 113,000-student Cobb district received about $16 million, while Marietta schools — with 9,000 students — was given about a tenth of that, $1.6 million.
At the end of April, Cobb commissioners received about $132 million in federal money made available through the CARES Act.
Cobb Commission Chairman Mike Boyce did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Cobb schools ask
Though Ragsdale seemed to suggest his district had already submitted a proposal to the county, district officials say he will send a formal request for the additional money to the Board of Commissioners sometime between now and the July 13 commission meeting. At that meeting, the district is expected to present its ask. Officials declined to provide an amount.
“There will be some people that say, ‘Well, wait a minute, you got CARES Act funding from the state to each school,’ and that’s true,” Ragsdale said, addressing the school board. “Now even though we’re the second-largest district in the state, I forget what number we are in amount of money received. It’s not second.”
Ragsdale later said the district received the sixth highest amount of funding statewide.
The superintendent said school districts were recently preparing for 14% budget cuts, which would leave a budget hole of $80 million for Cobb schools. Now, with budget cuts likely closer to 11%, Ragsdale said the $16 million in CARES Act money will still fall well short of the gap.
“So, yes, we still drastically need the funding of ... the proposal that we have submitted to commissioners,” he said.
Marietta wants $2.9 million more
In Marietta, Superintendent Grant Rivera says his district has asked the county for $2.9 million more in CARES money. Rivera says the district’s request includes money for “services and supplies for students and staff that are a direct result of COVID-19.”
Rivera said the district could use the money for items including, but not limited to, Wi-Fi hotspots and Chromebooks for students who engage in virtual learning, additional cleaning and disinfecting in school classrooms and hallways and hand sanitizer.
“Given the incredible financial demands placed on our school district due to COVID-19, especially amidst the pending state budget cuts to education, the Cares Relief Fund is a critical lifeline to maintain the highest standards of health, safety, and learning,” Rivera said.
Marietta schools purchased Wi-Fi hot spots for families and provided a laptop or tablet to any family who needed one for online school access shortly after schools closed in March. That need continues, Rivera said.
Wilkerson: Money should go to schools, within reason
State Rep. David Wilkerson, D-Powder Springs, said he would support more CARES funding going to schools for items such as nursing staff, counselors and technology needs. But, he said, any additional money provided would have to go to items that were needed after the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Wilkerson, who chairs the Cobb Legislative Delegation, said nurses and counselors will be needed to manage the impact of the virus, both from a physical and mental standpoint. He said technology purchases will also be necessary as the district plans to continue virtual learning.
Wilkerson added, however, that he could not support additional money for any other items until he knows more specifics about Cobb’s plans to return to school in August.
“And they’re going to really have to finalize their plans. The county and the school system need to coordinate as far as what they plan on doing,” he said, adding that he would especially like to know exactly what virtual learning will look like.
“Right now the (school opening) details are still very sketchy at best,” he said.
For the right expenses, those that will support the two districts’ response to COVID-19 and virtual learning needs, Wilkerson said, “Yeah, I think we need to maximize those funds.”
“The school system right now is saying, ‘We’re going to give a choice to the parent on whether they’re going to do online or in-person,” he said. “But if I don’t have internet at home or I don’t have a computer at home, I really don’t have that option.”
The Cobb Schools Foundation, which raises money often for charitable needs in the Cobb School District, raised money at the height of the pandemic to purchase technology for its students. Wilkerson said, however, it was his understanding that a need remains.
Cobb schools officials have said more details on exactly what school will look like in the fall are coming. But Ragsdale did say the end of the past spring semester allowed the district to work out some bugs in online learning.
Rivera said on Thursday the virtual learning experience would be greatly improved for the 2020-21 school year.
Parents, he said, showed “incredible grace” when the district first pivoted to virtual learning this spring, but would not “let us make the same mistakes twice.”