Schools seek $6.7M in COVID-19 grant funds | Local News

Sales tax revenue added $1.2 million to the schools in February.

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The revenue represents December cash register sales.

“We’re continuing to track in a very positive direction,” Kacee Harris, chief financial officer, told the Cumberland County Board of Education Feb. 25.

So far, sales tax is $747,954 ahead of budget projections. However, the county is currently undergoing a sales tax audit, which could impact that figure. 

The school system is preparing to apply for a second round of federal grant funding related to the COVID-19 relief packages. Director of Schools Ina Maxwell asked the board for permission to apply for a $6.7 million federal grant to mitigate impacts of the pandemic on the school system.

“This is the second round from the federal government,” Maxwell told the board.

The school system received a $1.6 million Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Grant last summer to help purchase additional Chromebooks and technology for remote and virtual learning, additional personal protective equipment for school staff and additional cleaning supplies.

The new grant can be used for facilities or to combat learning loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Maxwell said each school was conducting a needs assessment and a proposed grant budget would be part of the grant application, due March 15. The grant funds would need to be spent over 27 months.

“The state has stressed to us this grant will be the most stringent required monthly reporting than any grant that we have ever received and operated under,” Maxwell said. “They are asking [districts] to spend down as quickly as possible.”

The additional funds have been in addition to the services the school system typically must provide, Harris said.

“Most grants have a rule that you have to supplement, not supplant. Grant money allows us to do extra things,” Harris explained. 

The schools have seen additional costs for substitutes this year, and they can use some of the federal COVID-19 grant funds to cover those additional costs.

In other business, BOE Attorney Earl Patton updated the board on pending legal matters. He is still trying to serve a lawsuit against Pigeon Forge Hotels, LLC to recoup money paid for hotel reservations last spring. Both the Stone Memorial High School and Cumberland County High School FFA clubs reserved rooms at the hotel for the Tennessee FFA Convention scheduled in March 2020. The reservation costs were about $6,000.

That event was canceled as concerns grew about the novel coronavirus pandemic sweeping the nation.

The clubs were unable to get a refund for the rooms. They had used federal funds as part of the career and technical education budget, which required the school system to repay the funds at the end of the fiscal year, compounding the loss.

Tennessee courts may begin in-person proceedings beginning March 15. The trial is set April 27.

“I’m hoping we’ll have service and the trial will go off April 27 as planned,” Patton said.

Patton is also working with Cumberland County Attorney Philip Burnett on a transfer of property of the Homestead Tower to the county’s ownership. They are having the property surveyed to mark the corners of the property to be conveyed.

In January, Patton told the board about a national class action lawsuit against e-cigarette manufacturer Juul. He had been researching further information about the case since that time.

“The main question to be asked is … exactly how this school system has been damaged by vaping, in general, and that company’s promotion of vaping to younger individuals, as they’ve been accused of doing,” Patton said. 

“That’s something we need to answer for ourselves before jumping into something like this.”

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