Here are Grand Rapids schools’ 7 priorities for COVID relief spending

Michigan district also plans millions of dollars of playground upgrades for special ed students

Fine arts programs had subsisted on a shoestring budget in Grand Rapids Public Schools over the last several years.

While officials in the Michigan district will spend their influx ESSER funds on high-profile items such as learning loss and technology upgrades, they also plan to buy art supplies, instruments and tickets to music festivals, Chief Financial Officer Larry Oberst says.

Grand Rapids administrators also plan to spend about $700,000 to reverse an 800-student drop in enrollment. A substantial number of students were lost to private schools that we able to offer in-person instruction for most of the 2020-21 school year, Oberst says. “We’re going door-to-door, letting students know we’re back as normal as we can be,” he says. “We need to get students back and keep them.”

To address students’ and staff members’ social-emotional wellbeing, Grand Rapids plans to expand partnerships with community providers, including those that can also provide academic tutoring. Administrators also will hire a small number of mental health professionals and social workers.

“Obviously, we’re trying to stay away from adding significant amounts of legacy costs,” Oberst says. “The last bucket of ESSER III runs out in September 2024 and there’s no assurance what funding will be available to continue.”

Last year, Grand Rapids schools achieved 1-to-1 status by distributing an additional 7,000 take-home devices. Administrators will spend some of its next batch of ESSER funds on in-school technology, says Oberst, the chief financial officer. “We have 800 classrooms that need some level of update of classroom technology,” he says.

Unlike many federal programs, ESSER funds can be used on capital projects. When Grand Rapids administrators conducted a ventilation audit, eight of its oldest buildings failed.

Approximately $12 million in relief funds will go towards HVAC repairs in those schools. The district is also planning multimillion-dollar upgrades to make several antiquated elementary school playgrounds fully accessible to students in special education, Oberst says.

Grand Rapids Public Schools’ 7 ESSER priorities

  1. Learning loss
  2. Technology upgrades
  3. Enrollment
  4. Arts funding
  5. Social-emotional wellbeing
  6. HVAC repairs
  7. Playground accessibility
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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