Ketchikan’s school district is on track to receive more than a half million dollars in federal relief under the CARES Act. The funding could be invested in increasing distance learning. Ketchikan’s school board approved the funding Wednesday and took a key step toward repairing Ketchikan High School’s failing heating system.
CARES Act funding has restrictions on how it can be used. Think computers, tablets, software and such for distance learning — plus cleaning supplies, infectious disease prevention training and mental health services, among others. That’s according to a memo from the state Education Commissioner Michael Johnson.
The money can’t go towards regular expenses already in the budget, like teachers’ salaries, according to state education officials.
Board Member Sonya Skan said Wednesday that she’s concerned that distance learning widens the gap between rich and poor students. Having pupils mixed together under the same roof is a great leveler.
“When they walk into the room, they all have access to the same things,” Skan said. “And if this continues into next year, we have a large amount of kids that don’t have access to the same things.”
Skan suggested that relief funds could help get less advantaged students the technology they’ll need if distance learning becomes the norm.
“Such as home with no internet or no computers, or things like that,” she said. “You could utilize [CARES Act money] for being able to make sure that all families have the same access. And that, we know, helps all kids.”
Superintendent Beth Lougee replied that that’s part of the plan. District officials, she said, are looking into ways to provide internet access for students if remote learning is to continue next fall.
Because the relief funds are structured as a state grant, administrators needed the school board’s blessing before applying for Ketchikan’s share of the money. The board offered unanimous approval to apply for the roughly $588,000. Some of that will go towards reimbursing the district for prior pandemic-related spending. It’ll be up to Lougee and other senior administrators to decide how the rest is spent.
In other business, the board approved a nearly $25,000 sole-source contract to Juneau-based PDC Engineers to design a replacement for Ketchikan High School’s failing heating system.
Maintenance Director Al Jacobson told the board that the repairs need to happen quickly. The high school has only one of three boilers running.
Gathering bids, he said, would delay the project unnecessarily — and the engineering firm was already familiar with the high school’s heating system.
“So, to kind of speed the process up and hopefully get boiler two replaced before we get into a situation with the weather, I felt that it was probably a prudent move,” Jacobson said in reply to a board member’s question regarding the necessity of the sole-source deal.
The board unanimously approved the engineering contract and forwarded a request for nearly $360,000 in project costs to the borough. The Borough Assembly is scheduled to consider the request on Monday.