The Vincennes Community School Corp. will likely see a share of federal funds set aside for COVID-19 relief.
Superintendent Greg Parsley Monday night reported to members of the board of trustees that they would be applying for money from the CARES Act, a stimulus package which offers financial assistance to, among others, government entities to help with shortfalls caused by the spread of the coronavirus.
The corporation is completing an application for about $770,000. But due to restrictions placed upon how the money can be spent, the school corporation must share some of it with non-public institutions in its own district, specifically Flaget Elementary School and the Southwest Regional Youth Village, Parsley said.
The federal government is using Title 1 grant infrastructure already in place to divvy out the funds to schools, and Parsley said the school’s share looks to be about $700,000.
But they’re likely to put it away for safe keeping.
“Our intention is not to do anything with these dollars at the present,” he told the board, which met virtually via Zoom. “We’ll have to request them, we don’t have them in hand just yet.
“But they’re telling us Indiana schools could see a decrease in funding at the state level,” Parsley said. “We could also see a decrease in our (federal) Title funds as well.
“So schools have been told to use this CARES money very carefully.”
He added that the district will certainly have through 2021 to spend the money, possibly even through 2022.
The widespread shutdown associated with COVID-19 has left many without jobs; that will likely mean less in the coming years in tax revenues for the government entities that rely on them for operational costs.
Looking ahead to the 2021-22 school year, Parsley said he wants to save at least most of the CARES Act funds for worst-case scenario, which would be to pay teachers’ salaries and benefits in the event that there is a significant tax shortfall.
“I think we’ll be OK for the 2020 year,” Parsley said. “What concerns me is looking ahead to 2021 and even 2022. I anticipate significant concerns, and I could need those dollars to pay teachers, benefits, those things.
“That’s why I’m hesitant and want to keep that money back.”
He worries school corporations could see a repeat of events that transpired during Gov. Mitch Daniels’ administration when, due to the recession of 2008, more than $300 million was cut from public education.
Those cuts resulted in the selling of the former Washington Elementary School, which the corporation only recently was able to purchase back and reopen as an alternative school.
“We could very likely be headed toward another recession,” he said. “I just don’t see any feasible way the state of Indiana will be able to continue with the services they currently provide without having to at least take a look at public education.”
Parsley did, however, say it’s possible he could draw from some of the CARES money to purchase Chromebooks in the fall, especially if they already see a decrease in their springtime tax draw.
Property tax bills were due on May 11, but Gov. Eric Holcomb allowed for a 60-day, penalty-free waiver. Government entities won’t see another draw until the end of the year.
“If we were to get into some of this CARES money, it would only be if we get into a second wave (of COVID-19),” Parsley said, “or if we are unable to get the (traditional) school year started.”
The school corporation purchases Chromebooks each year, but it’s possible, Parsley said, if they are forced to stick with e-learning come August, that they would buy extra devices and get them into the homes of students who don’t currently have access to that kind of technology.
“We’ll probably be OK,” Parsley said. “But this money could also be used as a buffer.”
The board also on Monday awarded a contract for the construction of a new weight room at Lincoln High School.
The board gave preliminary approval to this project last year, and despite the COVID-19 shutdown, members want to move ahead.
There were talks early on of adding onto the high school, but, instead, they’re opting to repurpose some under-utilized space, Parsley said.
Officials will take a relatively unused wood shop near the cafeteria and transform it into a new, larger weight room.
The wood shop will then be moved and combined with the welding room.
The more than $371,000 contract was awarded to low-bidder Garmong Construction, Terre Haute, the same company overseeing the 4-year $40 million renovation of the VCSC’s four neighborhood elementary schools.
Work is scheduled to begin in early June and finish in October.
The school corporation is also seeking bids on new equipment.
Funding for the project will come from the Rainy Day Fund.