Higley adjusts

Higley Unified School District made some slight adjustments such as increasing spending to support and retain staff for its last allotment of federal pandemic relief monies.

The original plan for the use of ESSER III funds was based on input from stakeholders such as teachers and students and covers spending from fiscal years 2021 to 2024. Allowable uses of the funds include addressing students’ social emotional and mental health, academic needs and supporting staff as a component of recruitment and retention efforts.

The district increased spending for staff support and retention by roughly 30 percent and dropped funding for learning loss initiatives by 29 percent, according to CFO Tyler Moore at the June 22 board meeting.

The budgets for the other two allocations, school facility repairs and technology to support instruction, remain unchanged.

“We received $7.8 million and 20 percent of that was required to be spent in the learning-loss category so we are still maintaining that 20 percent with this adjustment,” Moore assured the Governing Board.

He said the original estimate of $400,000 per each of the three fiscal years to address learning loss with free summer school for credit recovery and tutoring throughout the year was now estimated to cost $200,266 each year.

Spending for additional counselors also went from $912,660 to $702,556. The intent was to add three counselors to address students’ social emotional health at nine elementary campuses and add one district lead counselor. After the grant funding ends, the district would then use its own money to fund the positions.

Moore said the district was able to fill the district lead position but not the other three openings. “Coincidentally every single district is also trying to hire additional counselors with this funding source,” he explained.

Mum Martens, Human Resources executive director, added, “It has been a struggle. We have a neighboring school district that’s much larger than ours and they’re looking at nine-plus counselors and their pool has been very difficult, too.”

“Instead of hiring certified counselors we’re going to make them teachers on special assignments,” she explained. “They’re actually individuals that are working on the degrees so they’re certified teachers that are currently actively engaged in a curricular program to get their school counseling degree. They just have to show us they’re continually active in the program to continue to be renewed each year.”

Board member Kristina Reese applauded staff for taking a creative approach, stating, “I think that’s awesome that we’re thinking outside the box, being that everyone’s hiring counselors.”

The last category under learning loss saw an increase in spending to buy and implement a research-based phonics program, which increased to $223,353 from the original estimate of $213,642.

Spending for teacher support and retention increased to $3.2 million from $3 million mostly due to COVID sick leave.

That expenditure for Fiscal Year 2022 went from the original budget of $30,000 to $674,831.

“COVID leave kind of blew our budget out of the water,” Moore said.

Martens said COVID leave increased drastically from December to February and hoped this upcoming school year is different.

She noted many other school districts did not offer the leave.

An unbudgeted expense resulted from a need to contract with a company to do cleaning at a cost of $414,283.

“As you know we’ve had a difficulty hiring custodial staff, not only custodial staff but a lot of our support staff,” Moore said.

“It was imperative that we kept our schools clean and sanitized,” Moore added.

Board President Amy Kaylor said, “We can’t control that all of our teachers and families all got sick in January of this past year. \But I think we’ve done really well in doing what we said we were going to do with the money and then following through.”