While some schools in Nevada spent the majority of their federal aid from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) packages on short-term incentives, the Humboldt County School District (HCSD) spent funds addressing immediate needs of students. Funds went towards things such as technology needs, mental health and community needs, social workers, and providing valuable assistance to teachers, like extra sick leave and professional development. 

The HCSD received $8,640,928.80 as a part of the ESSER funds in multiple tranches distributed beginning in 2020, with roughly $3.2 million currently left to spend for future or ongoing projects. 

More than a billion dollars in ESSER funds were distributed to Nevada schools on a per pupil basis, with Clark County receiving the most federal aid, over $1.2 billion, as they account for approximately 90 percent of the student population in Nevada. Then, followed by Washoe County who received over $120 million. 

Jensen said the HCSD’s spending priorities were largely decided by the district’s Strategic Plan, which outlines goals and visions and is regularly evaluated by the Humboldt County Board of Trustees.  

“Our strategic plan that we’ve been working on defines where we want to be within a five year time period and what steps we need to take,” he said. 

Initially, the HCSD spent the first allotment of their funds supplying students and staff with safety equipment to help with sanitation and protection, and then, chrome books and internet hotspots were purchased for students to help those that did not have access to resources that would allow them to use distance learning. 

Once it was clear what else students and staff needed and a clear plan for the HCSD was outlined, other funds went towards getting students access to mental health resources, social workers, and other programs like Communities in Schools, to address both academic and social needs. 

The funds were also used to supply teachers with an extra 10 days of sick leave. Typically, teachers and staff are allowed a maximum of 15 paid time off days to use throughout the year, according to JEnsen, but different guidelines from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) posed a problem for most staff if they got sick or exposed.

“We could’ve provided one shot incentives to our staff members that didn’t have a lot of long term benefit, or we could look at some things that had a greater impact. One of the things we opted to do… [was] put money in to provide sick days during COVID. 

So if [staff] developed COVID [they] wouldn’t have to use [their] own sick days,” explained Jensen.

The HCSD also used sums to invest in professional development for staff, which went hand in hand in addressing the mental health needs of students coming out of the pandemic. 

The investments in professional development also made it possible for the district to support the HCSD’s most at-risk students, which were identified as the English Language Learners (ELL). 

The opportunities meant that HCSD could build up their current staff to help students rather than hiring new staff with the federal aid funds, which was especially challenging because of staff shortages.  

“We said if we can’t fill in with certified ELL teachers, our next best thing is to allow for our staff members to get more training — those that chose to — to build up what you have to meet that need.”

According to Jensen, the ESSER funds were based on a combination of allocations awarded based on enrollment and competitive awards that were limited and required districts to compete for the funds. 

Luckily, the HCSD employed the help of a grant writer and was able to fare well with attaining the competitive awards, but Jensen said that other Counties that did not have access to a grant writer struggled to receive the competitive funds. 

The ESSER federal aid is also stabilizing the budget after the Net Proceeds of Minerals sweep that took almost $6 million from the district last year. 

“We were able to… pay [staff] with this federal stimulus and save money that would have been in the general fund to help put into our ending fund balance to try to rebuild that massive deficit that happened to us when the state swept 5.7 million,” said Jensen.

Jensen referred to these funds as “cliff funds”, which means they will go away at some point, also meaning that “it will come down to some hard discussions amongst the [Board of Trustees]” to determine what programs remain and what programs will go away. 

“Our hope is that there’s alternative grant funding [to sustain programs], because that’s one of the conversations we’ve had with the governor’s office and the legislators — is that these funds have demonstrated significant value. It does our students a disservice to just simply take them away. We must operate within the confines of our revenue streams and so we’re trying to incentivize the state to provide additional grant funding to maintain these types of programs, especially in the realm of mental health.”