Lawrence school district seeking $4.2 million in COVID relief funds

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Article updated at 10:18 a.m. Tuesday:

The Lawrence school district did indeed submit letters of interest for COVID-19 relief funds through the county, spokesperson Julie Boyle confirmed Tuesday morning. 

It was unclear by Douglas County’s Monday deadline for letters of interest whether the district had submitted any forms to seek the federal American Rescue Plan Act funds, but Boyle said Tuesday that the district submitted letters of interest asking for about $4.2 million in financial aid.


The vast majority of that — $3,695,000 — was submitted for general fund revenue shortfalls due to COVID-19 impacts on declining enrollment, Boyle said. 

The district also asked for $176,000 for paraeducator training, $176,493 for staff Montessori training, and $160,000 for instructional support for tiny-k Early Intervention Services, Boyle said. 

District administrators, separate from the committees that have been discussing possible school closures, have continued to explore the possibility of offering a free, public Montessori educational program at New York Elementary, Boyle said. That possibility was first announced in December, but no decisions or recommendations have been made, Boyle said Tuesday morning.

On Monday, Boyle mentioned that ARPA funds would be an unsustainable solution to the district’s multimillion-dollar budget shortfall for several reasons — namely because the district’s enrollment decline was likely compounded by COVID-19, but began pre-pandemic.

“The district’s current General Fund shortfall requires permanent and ongoing cuts,” she said in an email Monday. “The board’s strategic plan priorities, such as improving staff compensation and student learning and support also require a stable source of funding year after year. The ARPA information asks applicants: Is the use of the funds sustainable? In both of these cases, no, it is not.”

Many Lawrence advocates in the movement to “#saveourschools497” have been seeking alternative ways that the district can fill in a multimillion-dollar budget gap, rather than closing schools. Some community members have called for the district to apply for the COVID relief funds.

Monday at 5 p.m. marked the county’s deadline for those interested to submit a letter of interest in the ARPA funds, which was “highly encouraged, but not required” of those who plan to submit proposals for grants. County commissioners will use data from the letters of interest to “establish program parameters, guidelines and spending priorities,” according to information on the county’s website.

The school district has received approximately $20 million in federal emergency relief funds specifically intended for schools. “These funds have been used to support health and safety, and student, staff, and school building needs directly related to COVID-19,” Boyle said. 

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Emma Bascom (she/her) reported for The Lawrence Times from December 2021 through May 2022. Read more of her work for the Times here.

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