BCSD upholding decisions and funding options filed until after March 8 election

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BONNERS FERRY – The Boundary County School District is suspending discussions of maintenance issues and funding options through the Federal Emergency Relief Funding for Elementary and Secondary Schools (ESSR Fund) and L American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) until after the March 8 election.

Mary Fioravanti, the new Trustee on the Moyie Springs Board, asked to suspend the agenda item until she could make a presentation.

ARPA was signed into law on March 11, 2021, and provides $350 billion in additional funding to state and local governments. ARPA funds are used to fight COVID-19 and support families and businesses grappling with its public health and economic impacts; maintain vital public services, even amid income declines resulting from the crisis; build a strong, resilient, and equitable recovery by making investments that support long-term growth and opportunity, according to U.S. Treasury Department officials.

Since March 2020, the federal government has adopted three relief programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which include unprecedented support for K-12 schools, known as ESSR funds. A third round of funding was passed in March 2021 and will take place in September 2023 with a total of $126 billion to be distributed to US schools.

Fioravanti said she objects to the district receiving ESSR III and ARPA funds for the district because of the language written in Executive Order 14000, under section 2 of the agency’s roles and responsibilities.

She said that at first glance the funds looked good, but upon further investigation, she fears that if the district does not comply with federal orders, it could face legal issues from the federal government.

Board members and BCSD Superintendent Jan Bayer clarified that BCSD did not enter into a legal agreement with the federal government, but the State of Idaho did and that the Ministry of Education was the intermediary. If the federal government demanded reimbursement of the funds paid, the district would not be responsible for the funds, but the state.

Fioravanti said data is the new currency because social media companies provide free services, but data collection is the indirect form of payment. She said that because of this and ARPA rules, she was concerned that the federal government might require BCSD to provide them with student data.

Fioravanti proposed that the board establish a committee to explore the subject.

“In the event of non-compliance with requirements, regulations, guidelines, or any requirements for registration or other programs, the Treasury may impose additional conditions on future awards or take other remedies for violations regarding use of the funds, previous payments will be subject to recovery”, Fioravanti mentioned. “So if we somehow breach any of the guidelines, they can take the money back. […] And there are 60 days to return the money.

She said she believed it would constitute a debt to the federal government and the district would have to repay the $3.5 million in funding they agreed to.

Bayer clarified that the State of Idaho should reimburse all of this, since the State signs these agreements, not the BCSD. The district compiles reports on how the funds are spent and the state approves them, Bayer said.

“The state has already approved the award and they sign for those awards, and then they distribute the funds to BCSD and other government agencies,” Bayer said.

“If the state is in this situation, it’s on them, but that doesn’t change the fact that the federal government has access to student data,” Fioravanti said.

“We don’t upload any student data,” Bayer said. “We couldn’t supply that day because we don’t have it.”

Bayer said the only way the district will know if a student is vaccinated is if a parent tells district officials.

Rae said sharing student information would violate federal privacy law and the data is not even available to the state.

“To be perfectly honest, if the feds wanted this information, they would get it,” Weaver said.

Another issue raised by Fioravanti was that BCSD was using newly printed money for funds that made inflation worse.

Trustee Teresa Rae agreed that new money added to the economy gets printed and creates inflation that is bad for the economy, individuals, businesses and school districts.

“If we don’t spend [the ESSER] money someone else will. But inflation will continue […] and someone will end up paying for it in the future,” Rae said.

“The question is whether our taxpayers want to pay more instead of taking federal dollars,” said trustee Nicki Weaver.

Fioravanti suggested using more money from the logging fund for maintenance costs instead of taking federal dollars.

Bayer said it is board policy to maintain that account at $600,000 in the event of a catastrophic failure by one of the schools.

Board members and the superintendent have warned of this possibility in past community bond meetings.

Bail was originally set to be $18 million, but with the help of federal funds, only $16 million is requested.

Administrator Candy Kelly thanked Fioravanti for her research and said the district would consider funding for maintenance projects once the fate of the March 8 bond election is known.

BCSD hosted two community open houses at Valley View Elementary where community members toured the school and demonstrated the risks and safety concerns with the 73-year-old building.

To name a few, kindergarten children have to cross a street several times a day for lunch, playtime and learning. There are plumbing issues, such as every kitchen sink not draining, and the toilets and sinks are not directly connected to the sewer. The building material is cinder blocks, not cement blocks with aggregates, but real cinder blocks make it difficult to heat the building.

A Community Bonds meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. today, March 3, at The United Methodist Church.

In-person mail-in voting ends on Friday March 4 and Election Day on Tuesday March 8.

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