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Commissioners consider school district COVID spending reimbursements

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By Wesley Gardner
LPR Editor

Caldwell County Commissioners on Tuesday approved a motion that will allow staff to pursue options looking to using the county’s Coronavirus Relief Fund to help offset distance learning and telecommunication costs incurred by three local school districts.
County Grants Administrator Dennis Engelke touched on some of the difficulties the three districts have faced in midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are all woefully aware of the impact the coronavirus has had on our lives, commerce, the delivery of education platforms, etc.,” said Engelke. “The three independent school districts in the county – Lockhart, Luling and Prairie Lea – have taken proactive postures in addressing and incorporating distance learning and educational enhancements to allow students to continue their learning from home.
“A key enhancement has been the rapid deployment of broadband connectivity through the installation of communication tower and providing hot spots to help students in the more remote locations in the county to be able to get their lessons from home. These robust actions come with a steep price tag, however.”
To date, the Lockhart school district has incurred more than $608,000 in expenses due the installation of several communication towers, in addition to purchases allowing every student to learn from home at the beginning of the school year, such as laptops. The Luling school district has incurred more than $430,000 in costs. Data was not provided for the Prairie Lea school district, though it would also be included in the funding efforts.
County Judge Hoppy Haden said the funding would be taken from the Coronavirus Relief Fund, which consists of roughly $1.17 million allotted to county to offset the cost of COVID-related expenses. Haden noted the county would be first be required to use 20 percent – or about $234,000 — of this funding, however, before the rest would be made available.
According to Engelke, the county has currently been reimbursed for about $160,000, though he said the addition of salaries of staff members who have spent large amount of times working with the Coronavirus Relief Fund, such as the county judge and purchasing agent, the rest of the $1.17 million should be made available. Engelke noted the funds would need to be distributed before Dec. 31 or they would be lost.
Haden noted it was unclear how much money would potentially go to the school districts, though he said it could be a considerable amount.
“Obviously, the county’s not going to spend $1 million bucks on COVID-related stuff,” said Haden.
“Once we figure out what our expenses are, we could then go in and help defray some of their costs.
“It could be a big chunk.”
Precinct 2 Commissioner Barbara Shelton lauded the effort.
“I think this is a great thing. If we have that and it’s available to us and we’re not able to use that in our county that we should support our schools,” said Shelton.
“It’s better to use than lose it, so I highly support this idea.”
In other business, commissioners voted to extend the county wide burn ban for another two weeks.
Hank Alex, chief deputy of the Caldwell County Office of Emergency Management, said the county was currently approaching critical fire danger.
“Let’s continue on with the burn ban for another two weeks, and then let’s look on doing some permitted hot work, such as welding, after the next two weeks if [the numbers continue] to climb,” said Alex. “We’ve been lucky here lately, but we’ve been having a few early morning grass fires around seven in the morning, so that’s a pretty bad factor.”

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