Cedar Rapids schools say total financial hit from pandemic, derecho won’t be known for months

Published: Sep. 14, 2020 at 10:37 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Even though the school year is just getting started in eastern Iowa, school districts are already weighing how much the pandemic is going to cost them.

A study from the Association of School Business Officials International and the School Superintendents Association estimates the pandemic will cost about $1.78 million in the 2020-2021 school year for a school district with 3,659 students. That study factors in costs like hand sanitizers, disinfectant wipes, additional custodial staff, masks, and other expenses.

That estimate would be even more for larger districts like the Cedar Rapids Community School District, which has about 16,000 students and also needs to account for expenses from the Aug. 10 derecho, which damaged all of its school buildings.

Superintendent Noreen Bush said during a school board meeting Monday that it will likely be several more months before the district knows the full financial impact from the pandemic and the storm.

“We probably will have, each month of course, we’ll be able to see what’s up and what’s down,” Bush said. “But certainly by mid-year, I think we could say, ‘This is the current impact,’ but we’ll probably have a better idea as the year moves forward into the spring.”

Bush said the district is already feeling this impact every day.

She pointed, for example, to the increased needs for internet hotspots, with students learning remotely, and trying to find how they can get funding to pay for those.

But Bush said the district will have a better picture when it knows what expenses FEMA and its insurance will cover.

District Executive Director for Business Services David Nicholson said FEMA especially is the big question mark when it comes to covering COVID expenses.

Earlier this year, FEMA covered some pandemic-related costs, like PPE, that was used in public places, including schools.

But under a new policy that goes into place Tuesday, the agency will no longer reimburse states for PPE and other COVID costs in schools.

Nicholson said the district is still waiting to find out if expenses it submitted earlier, before the new policy was announced, will be reimbursed.

“The first claim that we sent was through June 30, and that was $118,000, and we don’t know whether we’re going to get that, plus we have a lot more expenditures that occurred after June 30, and it’s not sounding really favorable right now, that we’re going to get any funding through FEMA,” Nicholson said.

Nicholson said if the district doesn’t receive FEMA reimbursements to help with its COVID-related expenses, it might have to use its money from the CARES Act to cover those.

Cedar Rapids schools received $3,036,170 from the state’s overall $71.6 million allocation in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief in May.

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