The U.S. Department of Education approved Wisconsin’s ESSER III plan in its entirety, including more than $8.27 million to area school districts out of $1.388 billion being awarded statewide.

ESSER III, the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund grant program authorized under American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act, provides additional money for local educational agencies (LEAs) to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19. ESSER III supplements ESSER I, created by the CARES Act in March 2020, and ESSER II, created by the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act in December 2020.

As required, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction calculated ESSER III allocations using the 2020-21 Every Student Succeeds Act, Title I, Part A formula, which is based on the number and percentage of children from low-income families. Title I requirements do not apply to ESSER III funds.

Area schools and the funds they will receive include:

— Birchwood School District — $440,734;

— Bruce School District — $1,117,167;

— Chetek-Weyerhaeuser School District — $1,869,451;

— Flambeau School District — $1,806,900;

— Ladysmith School District — $1,591,276;

— Lake Holcombe School District — $779,891; and

— Winter Area School District — $1,061,650.

State Superintendent Jill Underly praised the announcement and the impact it will have as school boards statewide plan next year’s budgets.

“I am heartened to know that our plan is approved, and that districts currently deep into budget planning for next school year will be able to use these funds in their planning. Our districts need stability as they look towards the next school year,” Underly said.

This is the last of the ESSER grant dollars, according to Ladysmith School District Administrator Laura Stunkel. 

The Ladysmith School Board already has mapped out its spending, asking parents and staff through surveys and community meetings about where would be best to allocate the funds.

“We have known about this all year,” Stunkel said. “These grant dollars will allow us to upgrade all of our curriculum materials for literacy, math, science, and social studies.  Staffing, student services, and facility upgrades will also be targeted with these funds.”

The $1.59 million Ladysmith School District ESSER III money breaks down to include the largest share of 43 percent for salary and fringes totaling $681,487. This will fund a reading interventionist, middle and high school guidance counselor, special education teacher, summer school wages, additional pre-kindergarten teacher, technology summer paraprofessional, elementary classroom aide, elementary nurses aide, summer groundskeeper, additional custodian evening help at both schools, high school afterschool tutoring during the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years and a math support teacher/interventionist at both schools.

The Ladysmith school funds also include 26 percent for curriculum upgrades totaling $420,000. This includes math for grades 6-12, English/language arts for grades 9-12, K-12 science, K-12 social studies, career technical education curriculum resources as needed and professional development for all these curriculum areas.

The Ladysmith school funds also include 21 percent for facility updates totaling $332,949 to cover heating/ventilating/air conditioning improvements, high school roof replacements, middle and high school air filtration and earthwork to address water drainage issues around the building.

The Ladysmith school funds also include 7 percent for technology upgrades totaling $118,898 to cover Chromebooks and charging towers.

Summer school interventions use 0.6 percent of the funds totaling $10,000 to cover summer sessions in 2022 and 2023.

Auditorium upgrades use 0.5 percent of the funds totaling $8,410 to cover a new soundboard and software.

Nurse supplies use 0.06 percent of the funds totaling $1,000 to cover masks.

Administrative costs through Cooperative Education Services Agency total $10,300.

Flambeau School District is the recipient of the largest share of ESSER III funds going to Rusk County schools, totaling $1,806,900. The district is required to spend 20 percent of its funds to address the academic impact of lost instructional time, according to School District Administrator Erica Schley. 

“We are adding staff to implement interventions at the elementary and middle school levels in reading and math. We have also added another math teacher at the middle school level that will work not only in middle school, but as a math interventionist in the elementary,” Schley said.

The district has undergone an intense curriculum review for both math and English and Language Arts. A new curriculum was approved at the last board meeting for 6-12 math.  

School officials are planning on purchasing a new curriculum for English/Language Arts in elementary.

The district has also been working with Sitelogiq to address building needs, according to Schley.

“We will use what is allowable with ESSER funds to address some of our building needs such as new windows and exterior doors,” Schley said.

Like all federal grants, ESSER III funds are managed in Wisgrants.  School district officials claim funds as they are spent. The total grant money is pass-through money, never landing directly in a school district bank account.

“As of last Wednesday, the funds are available to be claimed,” Stunkel said.

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