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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — Three rounds of pandemic relief funds have come to public schools since the pandemic started and Oklahoma City Public Schools is processing how best to spend the last round which has also been the biggest.

Tuesday, Superintendent Sean McDaniel led the last of public meetings to get ideas on how to spend the last stage of money which is the largest.

With about ten people present in the Great Room at the district headquarters McDaniel and other staff listened to ideas from community members.

Natasha Pollard brought her grandson Jaquan Threatt to be a part of the process for the first hour and then they had to go on for his football practice.

She said that the best part of the meeting were the ideas about “helping the community out” and she was ready to jump in at just about any point.

“The school needs it, the kids need it, you know, during COVID and all that,” she told Free Press on their way out to football practice. “It may take time because some kids are used to being at home and everything. Now, they got to get back in school – get used to everything that’s going on. So it’s a big help whatever the community can do and I’m willing to help do anything that I can.”

Third stage

The three pools of money from the federal government have been to help schools survive and recover from the effects of the pandemic.

They are called Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds.

Tuesday’s session was about the last stage of money, which is the largest: $165 million.

Those three stages and the money that OKCPS received are:

ESSER I (CARES) funds – $17.31 million
Funds were available for reimbursement starting last spring (April 2020)
The intent and purpose of the CARES Act education funding is to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus.

ESSER II funds – $73.390 million
Signed into law in December 2020
The intent and purpose of the CARES Act education funding is to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus.

ESSER III (ARP-ESSER) funds – $164.72 million
Passed in March 2021
The intent and purpose of ARP of 2021, ESSER III funding is to help safely reopen and sustain the safe operation of schools and address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on students.
20% of the funds MUST be spent addressing unfinished learning and student emotional and social well-being. Funds must be expended by September 30, 2024.

The first two stages of relief are already in the process of being spent.

The public meeting was to get ideas on the last and largest lump of money after having given people in the community time to fill out a survey online.

Community needs

Several needs were expressed at the meeting, most of them about how the community needs the school district and how the district might engage the community with those funds.

Ideas were:

  • Build a new high school on the south side to relieve overcrowding at the southside high schools especially now with the second surge causing schools to work even hard to get kids and teachers to keep their distance.
  • Use the Columbus property at S.W. 23rd and Penn to build some sort of community facility including new playground equipment.
  • Put in more playground equipment at school locations since the City parks have very little at the time
  • Develop meals that are closer to the cultural meals students are used to eating. Sometimes kids come home hungry because the food they are offered is so unfamiliar it’s unappetizing.
  • Develop a program where parents and relatives who want to help can sew uniforms for students who cannot afford them.
  • Build canopies at schools that don’t have shelter for students waiting for their parents or the bus.
  • Develop greater capacity to let people in the community know what OKCPS is doing to get those services to people who need them.

How did it go?

Free Press talked to Oklahoma State Representative José Cruz who represents House District 89 on the near southwest side of Oklahoma City. Most of his constituents are in Oklahoma City Public Schools.

“I was disappointed to not see very many people here,” said Cruz. “I don’t know how well they publicized this, but they’re great listeners. I just wish there’d be more people out here.”

Cruz said that he was going to think more about how to get people engaged and let the district know what their needs are.

Arturo Delgado, a community member and union officer, said that he was “very impressed by the attention that was given by Mr. McDaniel to Community members in attendance with the session.”

“I would have liked to see this meeting later in the evening to give working parents the opportunity to attend if they wanted to,” Delgado said.

McDaniel reflected on the meeting after it was over.

Sean McDaniel
OKCPS Supt Sean McDaniel, 2019 (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

He said that especially the “open gates” concept of schools allowing neighborhood kids to play on their playgrounds over night is an interesting one even though there are questions about legal liability for such an arrangement.

But, the need for community engagement was what he heard loud and clear.

“You know, I heard as much tonight about just better ways to partner – better ways to build community – than I did really about how we can spend $170 million,” said McDaniel. “But man, that’s important. So how do we do both? How do we spend the money and build community and create a sustainable plan?”

Staff will now compile responses to the online survey and in the several small gatherings that have taken place to get input and the plan for spending the money over the next three years will be put in place.

Last Updated August 17, 2021, 9:08 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor