Pablo Robles

Higley seniors will be filmed accepting their diploma from a hologram of their high school principal, who is in another room when each grad walks across the stage. 

Higley Unified School District is awaiting an estimated $608,120 allotment from the federal CARES Act.

The district’s share is computed at 70 percent of its Title 1 allocation of $868,743 for this year.

“The district has not even received these funds as of yet,” Executive Director and CFO Gary Holland told the Governing Board last week. 

“So, of course not all of these monies will be spent in the 2020 school year so there will be a carry-over going into 20-21,” he said. “We are waiting for final numbers.”

Part of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act passed in March provides funding to local school districts for pandemic-response activities.

Those costs can include planning for and coordinating during long-term school closures, purchasing educational technology to support online learning for all students, and additional activities authorized by federal elementary and secondary education laws.  

“With the CARES Act money that we are anticipating can you give a brief description as to what we plan to use that money for,” board member Kristina Reese told Holland. “It’s additional money, it’s not something we had allocated before. What is our intention for that $608,000?”

Holland said there is a committee meeting being scheduled to evaluate how to use the funds. 

For example, he said the district could spend some of the money for more technology or for more curriculum.

“It kind of depends on whatever the committee comes up with,” Holland said.

Reese said the CARES Act is huge but wants clarification on what they money can be used for.

The one thing it cannot be used for is plugging any revenue gaps created by shortfalls. 

All school districts rely to some degree on sales tax revenue, which has plummeted as a result of business closures.

The impact, while significant for schools, is not nearly has big as it is for state government and most Arizona municipalities.

“I know that there is also other discussion on that money for school districts and I believe part of that is to ensure that we’re appropriately prepared for whatever our schools will look like in the future,” Reese said. “We don’t know. We haven’t gotten there yet. So is that this money or is that separate money. 

“If we have to have hand-washing sinks at every entrance I mean there is a cost to that. If we have to have hand sanitizers at every entrance, there is a cost to that. Is that this money? Is that other monies?”

Holland said the anticipated federal money could be used for items she mentioned.

“We haven’t had this meeting so I don’t want to necessarily speak for the group as a whole,” he said. “But I would think that we take all of that into consideration because true, we don’t know what next year will look like and so we would be setting aside a portion of that for any of these types of other expenses.

“Plus, we are always continuously looking for additional funding that may become available to help with any unforeseen type of expenses going forward.”

The Gilbert Public Schools Governing Board has not discussed the issue yet so there was no information about the CARES money to be released, according to spokeswoman Dawn Antestenis.

In addition to $7.2 billion in CARES Act funding that Arizona received for state governments and municipalities and  counties with a population of less than 500,000, the state received $275 million to be distributed across school districts.