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Some Utah school districts will cut personnel once federal COVID funds run dry

The Granite School District administration at 2500 South State Street in Salt Lake City, Oct. 3, 2022.
Jim Hill
The Granite School District administration at 2500 South State Street in Salt Lake City, Oct. 3, 2022.

The deadline for schools to allocate CARES Act funds, the first round of federal COVID-19 relief funding came and went last week.

The Granite School District and Davis School District say staffing levels at some schools will go down once all of the federal one-time support dries up in 2024. In Utah, 13.2% of all K-12 federal COVID-19 funding was spent on employee benefits and 41.1% was spent on salaries, according to the latest data from August.

In 2020 and 2021, Congress passed three bills to add almost $190 billion to the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. Utah school districts and charter schools received over $873 million from the fund, as well as other forms of one-time federal and state funding.

Granite School District spokesperson Ben Horsley said at the beginning of the pandemic, the district used the federal funding to buy COVID-19 test kits and technology to help with distance learning. Since then, schools in the district have primarily used the money to pay for additional staff and instructional materials to help with the learning lost during the pandemic.

“Because we saw a large amount of students who just did not attend school at all. Even though they might have been in an online program, they did not participate in a meaningful way,” he said.

Granite largely left it up to individual schools to decide how to spend the funding. But because many of them used it to hire additional employees, Horsley said now the problem for schools is to find sources of long-term funding to keep those people on, if they feel that the increased staffing levels are necessary.

If schools are not able to find room in the budget, they will have to let some workers go after the deadline to spend the relief funding passes.

“We will absolutely be cutting back on personnel,” Horsley said.

Schools knew the funding wouldn’t last forever, so a lot of the staff hired because of extra COVID-19 funding were on one-or two-year contracts, according to Horsley.

It’s a similar story in the Davis School District. District spokesperson Hailey Higgins said in an email to KUER that the district has so far spent $23 million of COVID relief funds on hiring more staff and giving existing employees extra assignments.

“We do not plan to continue those contracts,” Higgins said. “They will end when the money runs out.”

Updated: October 4, 2022 at 10:05 AM MDT
This story was updated with additional clarification from Davis School District spokesperson Hailey Higgins.
Martha is KUER’s education reporter.
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