Loudoun Schools Face Deadline on CARES Act Spending

Without an extension from the federal government, Loudoun County Public Schools may have to return $10 million in pandemic aid before the end of the year.

The School Board was briefed Wednesday on the status of the $27.9 million in CARES Act emergency funding that the division has received through the state and county governments. There is a Dec. 30 deadline to spend that money or it must be returned. The exception is a $1 million allocation that came with a Sept. 30, 2021 deadline.

Assistant Superintendent for Business and Financial Services Sharon Willoughby said $5 million would be spent on staffing and $10.2 million on operations and maintenance by the end of the year, but as much as $11.7 million may remain unspent before year’s end. 

That doesn’t mean the division doesn’t have needs to improve its distance learning program and prepare for the return of more students to the classroom. It simply means they can’t spend the money in time. 

To qualify for coverage by the federal funds, Willoughby said any purchased items must be delivered by Dec. 30. With school districts across the nation all competing for the same materials and equipment—additional computer monitors for teachers, for example—the supply chain is a challenge. 

“We are working very closely with the vendors. We don’t want to place a multi-million-dollar order for an item and risk not having those items on site by Dec. 30 and having to absorb that cost,” Willoughby told School Board members.

The school’s technology czar, Assistant Superintendent of Digital Innovation Vince Scheivert, said the procurement challenges have not abated since the early days of the pandemic when the division scrambled to purchase thousands of Chromebooks. 

These days, Scheivert said the staff is “scavenging the aisles” looking for available items like cameras and microphones. 

They’ve had to cancel some orders because of slowed deliveries. “Things that were supposed to be here in four weeks turned out to be four months,” he said.

For some items, it’s not just the shortage that presents a challenge; for example some models of infrared thermal imaging cameras available in the market are on a federal government banned vendor list, meaning CARES Act money can’t be used to buy them.

While division leaders hold out hope for an extension of the Dec. 30 deadline, there has been no action by federal leaders so far. Locally, the decision on whether to surrender the funds is set for the Dec. 15 board meeting.

In a breakdown of the federally supported personnel cost, the division spent $2 million for substitute teachers, $1.7 for tech support for virtual operations and health mitigation monitors, $600,000 for unemployment costs, $500,000 for custodian overtime, and $200,000 for staff training.

On the operations and maintenance side, $2.5 million went to staff personal protective equipment; $2.1 million was used to purchase technology equipment such as hotspots, health assessment software, microphones and headphones; $1.4 million was spent on cleaning supplies, furniture removal and storage, air purifiers for classrooms, and public health signage; $1.3 million was spent contracts for N95 mask fit testing, communications, and nursing services; $700,000 was used to purchase student face coverings, hand sanitizer, disposable masks, thermometers and protective barriers; and $200,000 funded instructional supplies such as mailing student packets, home learning supplies, distance learning software and band instrument coverings. The staff also has earmarked $2 million as a contingency for unanticipated needs. 

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