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SISD proposes ESSER plan, talks stipends

“This article appeared in the July 2 issue of the Progress Times.”

Sharyland Administration presented their proposed plan for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds at the June 22 school board meeting. They broke down the use of funds by function and dollar amount. And although it was not an item the trustees could vote on, they did recommend increasing the employee retention stipend from $2,000 to $3,500.

The federal government has awarded three rounds of ESSER grants throughout the pandemic. Most recently, the third and largest grant came through the American Rescue Plan, which allotted $11.2 billion to the Texas public education system for pandemic recovery. Sharyland was awarded $20.8 million from ESSER III and allotted about $28.5 million from all three ESSER grants.

Each grant has guidelines for how the funds can be used. Once the Texas Education Agency approves the application for how the funds can be utilized, the initial ESSER III allotment will be issued to the applying school district.

Toward the end of May, Sharyland put out a survey to stakeholders in the community to gain feedback on how ESSER monies should be divided. SISD received 1,249 responses — 63.8 percent of the responses were from parents, 19.8 were from teachers and 5.6 percent were from students. Other groups surveyed included administrators, staff, community members, business owners, civil rights organizations and local health officials. Because of low student response, the district sent out a second survey to high schoolers in summer school for further assessment. The data from the second survey is still being calculated.

In the first survey, SISD asked for feedback in four areas — academics and overcoming learning loss, technology, facilities and comprehensive services. Stakeholders were given answer choices for strategies on how to address the four areas. In the academics and learning loss category, the most votes went to tutors and reduced class size. In technology, the highest number of votes went to hiring additional personnel for support. In facilities, the most selected answer was ventilation, cleaning and HVAC systems. And in comprehensive services, the majority voted in favor of social and emotional learning support.

The plan details that equipment will have a $2 million budget, HVAC will have a $10.6 million budget and learning loss will have a $14.8 million budget. Potential reimbursements from completed projects amounts to about $1.9 million.

Part of the plan to address learning loss requires additional staffing. The district is already creating and filling more positions that will be paid out with ESSER, through the life of the grant, which is until September 2024.

Additionally, the retention budget is $4 million. Superintendent Dr. Maria Vidaurri addressed the matter of teachers leaving the district throughout the pandemic, and proposed a $2,000 retention stipend for all employees.

“We really do want our teachers and our leaders to stay with us. They know our kids,” the superintendent said. “We want our bus drivers to stay with us. We want our child nutrition department to not leave us, our maintenance because they know our kids. They understand, they know and who better than our own family to get us back to our sense of normalcy as we move forward?”

Vidaurri invited the board to reevaluate the proposed stipend, and school board member Ricky Longoria recommended increasing the stipend to $3,500 per person.

“I know we’ve all collectively heard what other districts are doing. And I don’t know whether that’s setting the benchmark or not,” Longoria said. “But what it tells me, and hopefully the other board members would agree, is that whatever we do, I think we need to be big, and I think we need to be bold. And I think our employees deserve it from all departments, all aspects.”

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