Itemizer-Observer

DALLAS — The Dallas School District will use federal COVID-19 relief funds to hire a second district nurse and offset costs in the 2021-22 school year.

Superintendent Andy Bellando on March 8 presented his proposed budget for the use of the district’s second allocation of the Elementary and Second Emergency Relief Fund, also called SR 2, approved in December.

The funding is to be used for personal protective equipment items, mental health support for students, technology and devices, staffing adjustments as needed, funding for custodial and maintenance work, and health and safety equipment, such as air filters. Dallas received $2.3 million, some of which goes to the charter schools the district sponsors. Bellando said after the amounts going to charter schools is deducted, the district has a little more than $2 million in funding.

Bellando said he enlisted the feedback of the district’s administrative team, and that group of staff members that have been planning the safe return of students on forming the budget for the relief funding.

He said the money will help pay for something that may be overdue in Dallas: hiring a second district nurse. Bellando said the district will move forward to hire an licensed practical nurse (LPN).

“It’s a person who can complete about 90 to 95 percent of the tasks that our RN (registered nurse) completes. The only thing that this person, it’s my understanding, is not able to do is create health protocols for students. That’s specific to the person that has certification as an RN,” Bellando said. “I believe that you have heard this from me before. We also heard it from some of our surveying last year. The pandemic has just demonstrated to me that we are in desperate need of an additional nurse in Dallas School District.”

He said other districts of similar size have two, three or even four nurses on staff.

“We are managing with one nurse who is doing an incredible job, but this money is targeted for expenses such as the addition of another nurse in our school district,” Bellando said.

He also recommended that the district set aside some of the money to offset cost related to the purpose of the funding for the 2021-22 school year. The district has estimated that the only 60% of the students eligible to attend Dallas schools that are currently not due to the pandemic will return after in-person classes are fully restored. That would mean a substantial cut to the budget.

“There are a lot of uncertainties about where our budget is going to land in the 2021-22 school year knowing that we are anticipating only 60 percent return of our students,” Bellando said.

He noted changes could also occur to the calculation that the state uses to determine how much money school districts receive, which could further reduce funding.

Setting aside some of the SR 2 funding would help.

“It would give us a one-year reprieve. It would give us an opportunity to buffer or cushion or budget as we move into next year,” Bellando said.

He added he’s concerned that the state will not provide $9.6 billion biennial budget needed to keep the district from needing to make cuts. He said Gov. Kate Brown has proposed $9.1 billion.

“In order for us to stay whole next year, I think we have to come up with creative solutions in order to do that, and this is one option that will help do that,” Bellando said.

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