Published in the Hardin County Independent August 19, 2021.
Superintendent Edmondson shares how the money has been and will be spent
In 2020 and 2021, as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Congress passed three stimulus bills that provided a total of nearly $190.5 billion to the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. Funds are provided to state educational agencies and school districts to help safely reopen and sustain the safe operation of schools and address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the nation’s students.
Hardin County Superintendent Andy Edmondson shared with the Independent how the money has been spent and will be used to benefit Hardin County students since the coronavirus pandemic first affected schools in 2020.
“This past year has been trying for a number of different reasons, and it has frustrated everyone,” said Edmondson. “When the pandemic started we were told that schools need to prepare for a 20% cut in funding from the state. This was alarming to say the least. We know the pains of the state cutting funding to schools. We have built our savings here at the school to weather such storms, but when I began to prepare for that large of a cut to our funding it was frustrating.”
Edmondson felt some relief for school finances when he first learned the school would receive ESSER I funds.
ESSER I FUNDING: The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, passed on March 27, 2020, provided $13.5 billion to the ESSER I Fund. Hardin County Schools received $243,216. With this funding the school was able to purchase supplies, equipment, and hire staff to be able to open more safely for the 2020-2021 school year.
These items were purchased with the use of the first round of funds:
Tech Salary $50,527.00
2 Part Time Custodians $16,095.83
Part Time Maintenance person to help with installation of equipment $10,000
Quarantine Aide $22,031
100 Chromebooks $17,900
Chromebook Cases $25,000
Chromebook Carts $3,000
Carts for teachers moving between classrooms $1,020
iPads/tablets for K-2 $27,000
iPads/tablets cases K-2 $4,500
Wifi HotSpot Equipment $1,000
Document cameras $3,500
School Pro Electric Pencil Sharpener
Insurance for Chromebooks
Chromebooks license $2,399
Online website licenses –
(Screencastify, Quill, CommonLit, Essential Skills, Seesaw, Ramsey Education, Flocabulary, SpellingCity, and RazKids)
IASA Masks $1,995
Hand Sanitizer $312.56
Hand Sanitizer Stations $4,000
Face Shields for Teachers
Digital Touchless Thermometers
Extra Postage and Communication supplies
Auto Spring Loaded Paper Towel Dispensers
Elkay Surface Mount Bottle Filling Station
Retrofit Auto Toilet Parts $0
Thankfully, when ESSER II and III funding were announced, Edmondson said they were able to change gears, from thinking about making major cuts to thinking how they could best use this large amount of money to benefit the schools. Prior to the pandemic, they had just prepared the school’s 10 year Health Life Safety plan to make much needed improvements at the school. This plan has to be submitted every 10 years, but hadn’t been in 20 years.
ESSER II FUNDING: The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (CRRSA), passed on Dec. 27, 2020, provided an additional $54.3 billion in supplemental ESSER funding, known as the ESSER II fund. Hardin County Schools received $952,358.
With this funding recently approved, Superintendent Edmondson said Hardin County plans to use the money for these resources to improve education, health and safety for the 2021-2022 School Year:
Tech Salary $55,000
Library Aides Salary $45,000
2 Part Time Custodians $23,000
Full Time Maintenance $53,500
Aide for Jr. High RTI & High School-Extra Prog Aides $40,000
New Windows for School (Health Life Safety project) $75,000
Fire Alarm Upgrade (Health Life Safety project) $262,000
Sewer Lift Station $200,000
New Playground $192,608
ESSER III FUNDING – AMERICAN RESCUE PLAN: The American Rescue Plan Act, passed on March 11, 2021, provided $122.7 billion in supplemental ESSER funding, known as the ESSER III fund. Hardin County Schools will receive $2,187,094.
Edmondson says this plan is still being written, but the money spent to benefit the school will be in these areas:
Tech Salary $55,000
Library Aides Salary $45,000
2 Part Time Custodians $20,000
Full Time Maintenance $53,500
Aide for Jr. High/High School
HVAC upgrade (Health Life Safety project)
Schools must reserve at least 20% of the funding they receive to address learning loss.
Learning Loss $437,419 (20%)
Reserve $218,709 (10%)
HEALTH LIFE SAFETY PLAN (HLS) – In addition to the upgrades and safety measures put in place by ESSER funding, the Hardin County School Board and the Regional Superintendent have approved a Health Life Safety (HLS) Plan. Edmondson said they are still waiting on final approval from the State Board of Education. Bonds must be issued to complete the projects in this plan.
The additional funding from the pandemic to make major upgrades to the school is saving the county millions of dollars. Prior to COVID-19 the original plan was to bond out close to three million dollars to complete all the projects listed in the Health Life Safety Plan.
“With the ESSER grants helping pay for some of the big ticket items in our Health Life Safety plan we now only have to bond out 1.5 million dollars,” said Edmondson. “This is half the amount we anticipated to bond out when we started working on this plan.”
Edmondson said they have also been approved in ESSER II to upgrade the sewage lift station in front of the school, as well as put in a new playground. These two projects alone will save the school almost $400,000.
Edmondson said the bonds will be made in a way that there will be little to no change on tax bills. He said Hardin County has the lowest tax rates for schools in Southern Illinois, if not the whole state of Illinois. It has received the highest financial rating from the Illinois State Board of Education, recognizing Hardin County Schools to be in a strong financial position.
The public will be invited to comment on the HLS plan, likely at a board meeting near the end of September.
The following are proposed repairs and projects in the HLS plan:
Window replacement throughout the building $0
($75,000 Paid via ESSER II Funds)
Multi purpose gym floor abated and replaced
Replace missing light covers throughout building
Replace broken emergency lights throughout building
Replace exterior doors throughout building $0
($265,000 Paid via 1% Facility Tax and Maintenance Grant)
New interior doors throughout $153,000
Residing panels – outside gym $83,950
Exterior doors – outside gym $18,000
Emergency exits – outside gym $300.00
HVAC replacement $200,000 ($1,300,000 proposed in ESSER III grant)
Fire rated kitchen doors $27,000
Gym hand rails first 10 rows $7,500
Outside gym new bleachers $40,000
Main drive replaced in front of building $33,600
East locker room sink
East locker room Exit light $100
Upgrade fire alarm system $0 ($262,000 paid via ESSER II Funds)
Replace Outside Gym bathrooms $80,000
Replace school and PE lockers $125,000
Some items listed in the Health Life Safety plan show $0 because the project is completed or it is being paid out of the ESSER II or ESSER III grants. This is important to note, because it shows how the ESSER funding is saving the district from having to bond out over 1.5 million dollars.
MAINTENANCE GRANT – Last Tuesday, Edmondson learned that the state is providing maintenance grants to schools once again. Maintenance grants are matching grants up to $50,000. New doors were installed last year with the use of a maintenance grant. This was a $250,000 project.
Funds gained from the 1% Facility Sales Tax, that was passed locally in the March 2016 election, cover the costs, and then the grant matches. Before the Facility Tax was passed, the school struggled to make repairs when offered grants because there were no funds available to put forth to be matched.
With the 1% Facility Sales Tax, for every one dollar spent in the county, the school gets one cent. It may not sound like a lot, but it adds up and the community benefits with a better school. Edmondson said it’s a great way to maximize local tax dollars. In FY 2020 the school received $97,645.79 from the 1% Facility Tax. Edmondson said they generally receive around $100,000 each year.
As of right now, Edmondson said they are looking at using the maintenance grant to upgrade the ball fields behind the school.
When asked if the ESSER funding, in an indirect way, relieves funds to eventually add band, choir, art, or shop, Edmondson said that he, along with the Board of Education, and HCEA have worked together in a financially responsible way to bring programs back to the school.
Edmondson said when he first started, the focus was on academic positions being retained, adding positions to both jr. high language arts and high school math.
This past year, they posted a full time art and Ag Mechanics positions. Travis DeNeal has filled the Ag Mechanics position. Though they are keeping the position posted, they have been unable to find someone qualified to teach art.
In the past few years they have hired a full time counselor at the school and a part time social worker which Edmondson feels is a top priority for the school.
Newly hired this year is speech teacher, Braci Fulkerson, who Edmondson said will be a tremendous help, providing speech to students. He said Fulkerson will be leading the special education department.
All of these positions have been added using local and state funding. Edmondson said this is important to know because the grants will run out of money and the programs mentioned above will have to be sustained after the grant money is gone.
Edmondson said he looks forward to the day when his only focus is the school, and not the pandemic. Funding from the pandemic has provided an opportunity to make huge improvements at the school. At the same time, it gives the opportunity to improve the school’s social emotional outreach and academics. The amount of money that will be invested in Hardin County Schools will be transformative and will ease the financial burden from the county as well.