The Palestine City Council decided to give a large portion of its Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act Grant, to its local schools districts in a special meeting on Oct. 5. The remaining money not voted on will be spent before the Oct. 16 deadline, as soon as costs of the city’s projected grant projects can be determined.
The original CRF grant was for over $1 million. Restrictions by the federal government and state have been made on how the money can be used with 75% required to be spent on COVID related expenses not already budgeted. Once that money is allotted, then the remaining 25% will be largely used to help our local school districts with COVID related expenses.
Discussions were heard from all council members about how the money would best be used. These discussions included marketing, reimbursing local businesses for plexiglass expenses, PPE for small businesses, touch-less bathroom facilities, a full time nurse and help for nursing homes and residents in distress.
The council voted to spend most of the 75% of the CRF to ensure that the two school districts would receive the money they needed to get the matching grants by the deadlines.
The council voted to give Palestine Independent School District $87,325.00 and to give Westwood Independent School District $92,734.74 which will allow the schools to receive a matching grant of the same amount.
“We are grateful for the support of Mayor Presley and Interim City Manager Teresa Herrera, and the city council for their leadership in realizing the importance of making technology available to the students and families of Palestine ISD during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jason Marshall, PISD Superintendent. “These devices are critical to support in-person and virtual learning for our students.”
Westwood’s Superintendent, Wade Stanford, also extended his graciousness to the city council for its continued support of his students.
The money will help both schools with their required 25% local match for the Operation Connectivity program sponsored by the Texas Education Agency, which will provide the remaining 75% of the total $349,300.00 for increased district technology due to the pandemic.
Had the city not supported the district, they would not have been eligible for the TEA 75% grant.
The city’s collaborative efforts will remove the $349, 300 cost of technology from both school districts and ultimately both district’s tax payers.
Operation Connectivity is a collaborative effort of Gov. Greg Abbott, TEA and local school districts to provide the state’s 5.5 million public school students with a device and reliable Internet connectivity.
According to TEA, the lack of technology to learn remotely impacts 1.8 million students in the state.
According to Deanne Atkinson, PISD instructional technology specialist, 20 to 25% of PISD students are faced with unreliable connectivity in their homes. Of the 3,378 students enrolled in PISD 80% are economically disadvantaged. Roughly 15% of the PISD students currently attend school remotely.
Palestine ISD will receive 500 laptops and 300 hot spots and 300 iPads. Remote instruction is provided at the elementary level via the See Saw learning platform and Canvas at the secondary levels. Students also access these platforms in face to face learning to ensure they are familiar and comfortable with online learning. The 300 hot spots will increase the number of hot spots and 3G iPads currently available for students.
Stanford said the money WISD receives will help provide a quality device for every student in the district to be used in both fact-to-face learning and at-home instruction.
The city is required to spend the money by Oct. 16 or the money will have to be returned to the state.
While the original deadline for the grant was set for Nov. 16, the city received notification on Oct. 2 that they deadline had been moved up to Oct. 16. Mayor Steve Presley said he believes that the change in deadline is an attempt by the state to get the money back and use for their needs. He assured the citizens that the over one million dollars in the grant would be used by the city locally.
In other business:
• The city announced a city-wide cleanup day from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 7. This is for residential accounts only. To request pickup you need to notify the city public works by Monday, Nov. 2.
•Bids for paving at the Athletic Complex and at The Texas State Railroad were approved.