Ray County school, health and elected officials discuss what part of county’s $2.7 million of CARES Act funding would go to go schools, who are spending to defend against the coronavirus.

RICHMOND — With most attendees in masks and socially distanced at the more spacious Eagleton Center, the Ray County Commission met Wednesday, July 8, with school district administrators on what they can expect from Ray County’s $2.7 million CARES Act dollars. School administrators pressed commissioners to provide an estimate on what schools could expect in funding.

“I will overspend by a lot anyway, but it’s helpful to know what your number is,” Dr. Jaret Tomlinson, Excelsior Spring deputy superintendent asked the commission.

Eastern Commissioner Allen Dale gave an unofficial response.

“We kinda got figures down, we’re just in a little disagreement of putting it out, but if you just stop and think about it, we’re probably going to allocate close to a third to the schools,” he said. “We all know what you’re facing right now. You’re being asked to open up and nobody knows how to do that.”

However, commissioners, along with Ray County Treasurer Melissa Holloway were clear on guidelines for submitting funding requests. Districts must first sign a contract with the county to be eligible for reimbursements for cleaning supplies, Covid-related overtime pay and distance learning technology. Dale said the health department would work in an advisory capacity to help schools locate scarce Personal Protective Equipment and other supplies. Funding is from March 1 to December 30, and districts can submit multiple requests for that time period.

With roughly $900,000 earmarked for eight school districts — Excelsior Springs, Richmond, Lawson, Orrick, Hardin-Central, Polo, Braymer and Norborne — criteria to divvy up school funding became a central theme for the remainder of the meeting.

It’s not an easy task —  from considerations of the Ray County student population to the additional burden of rural schools with unreliable or no internet in homes.

Districts are allowed to purchase laptop computers with this funding. But Hardin-Central Superintendent Trey Cavanah said a lack of broadband access is one of the biggest hurdles for quality distance learning. About 15% of his students have no internet access at home, he said. His rural district comprises 36 miles.

“Even if they drive to a hotspot, if you have parents who are working or you have young children, it just doesn’t make sense. We got to rethink on how we are going to educate. I’m afraid that even if we open for school that eventually we’ll be in some type of suspension as the pandemic reoccurs,” Cavanah said. “We can deliver lunches and we can drive those routes, but getting those educational supplies and access to the resources that our kids need, that has become the biggest challenge, and I don’t have an answer.”

With Congressman Emanuel Cleaver’s aide, Kyle Wilkens present, Lawson Superintendent Roger Schmitz reiterated the need for a rural broadband commitment from government officials.

“Remote learning has been a really big struggle,” Schmitz said. “We got to push that narrative .. like the rural electric cooperatives in the 1930s and 40s.”

Dale said the “Top 3, who are fighting the (covid) battle” — the county’s first responders, its hospital, schools and shelter workshop — will receive the bulk of the $2.7 million funding. A lesser amount will likely be allocated to the courthouse and library.

“We kind of struggled in which direction to go with this money, to prioritize it as to what we are trying to accomplish. The first one was the first responders. We put them at the top of the list, because these are the people on the front line. And if they’re not out there, what you and I do, the rest of the money is not going to make any difference anyway,” Dale said.

So far, less than $50,000 of the $2.7 million has been dispersed, according to the county treasurer. Lawson Fire was approved and received monies for a quarantine room, she said.