MCPS board ‘begrudgingly’ uses pandemic funds for HVAC replacement

Maury County’s School Board has approved the use of more than $6 million in coronavirus relief funds to replace heating and cooling units at three elementary schools across the county with some members of the board sharing concerns for the plan.

During its monthly December meting, the board approved the use of $2.1 million in relief funds to replace the HVAC systems at Spring Hill Elementary School, $1.9 million at Mt. Pleasant Elementary School and $1.9 million at Riverside Elementary School.

“We have privatized those three because they are complete replacements that you cannot piece together,” said Eric Perryman, the school district’s assistant superintendent of facilities.

More:Science texts in limbo at Maury County Schools

Plan scrutinized by board members

Despite approving the funding, some members of the board shared concerns for using the relief funds on maintenance repairs rather than directly funding academic initiatives.

“I feel like we have missed an opportunity to spend money on academics,” said board member David Moore. “I wish there was something that was being brought to us to spend $6 million on that.  At this point, having seen nothing presented to us at this point, I will begrudgingly agree to spend money on HVAC because we do have the money, and we do have needs.”

David Moore, the vice chair of the Maury County Board of Education, attends a school board meeting at Horace O. Porter School in Columbia, Tenn., on Monday, July 20, 2020.

School board member Kristen Parker also shared concern for the school administration’s decision to prioritize the funds toward school facilities.

“We don’t have a plan for academics,” Parker said. “We know that we have students who do not have textbooks today who started on Aug. 1. I just want to make sure that does not happen next year. That is all I am asking for. I just want some assurance that next August, every single student will have the textbook they need.”

Assistant Superintendent of Academics Scott Gains said that changes on the state level have deleted the school system’s process of acquiring new texts.

“We want to make sure we have everything we need,” Gaines said. “It is a big task. We don’t want to haphazardly order them.”

Parker stressed that the relief funds were gifted to the district. 

More:‘Huge’ progress: Maury County’s academic growth improves despite pandemic’s setbacks

More:‘We need to do better’: Student performance promised to continue at Maury County Schools

“We have never spent as much money on textbooks,” Parker said. “We should have. I hope that there is accountability. These kids do not have to have months at a time that they did not have their textbooks because we did not plan, and we did not do our job.”

She said that in her seven years on the board, the board has not been presented with a long-term plan for textbook acquisitions. 

Moore supported Parker’s concerns, calling for the school administrator to begin moving forward.

“If ever we have a time with a few extra books sitting on the self and that is okay — that time is now,” Moore said. “We simply don’t need at all for someone to start the year without a book at this point. There is just no excuse for that with the amount of money that has been flowing through this school system.”

Considering the school district has received more than $30 million in pandemic relief funding, he said the situation “just doesn’t make sense.”

“This is a time when we can put that to rest and not worry about it,” Moore said.

Where are MCPS’ pandemic relief funds going?

Mason McMaham, 8, uses a 3Doodler pen at Mt. Pleasant Elementary School on Friday, March 13, 2020.

The funds come from a third $18.1 million batch of finical support distributed to the public school district through the Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.

In total, the school district has been given about $30 million in pandemic relief funds distributed by the state and federal governments. 

More:How are Maury County schools using ESSER funds?

Using funds from the program, the school district also plans to use $2.1 million to hire 20 additional licensed teachers for the 2021-22 academic year and 15 positions the following year to reduce class sizes across the district in an effort to mitigate learning loss caused by extended periods outside the classroom due to the pandemic.

The pandemic relief funding will also provide students with $25 to purchase additional materials and school supplies for the coming school year.

An additional $1 million is planned to be used to establish a “Grow Your Own” program to support professionals working at the school district as they pursue college degrees and their teaching licenses.

The program will cover tuition, salary, benefits, test fees books and materials.

The district will also use $3.9 million to purchase materials for students across all grades in need of supplemental material for ACT test preparation.

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