Controversial decision sparks discussion over school funds

Joyce L. Miller

In what is becoming a controversial decision, the Camdenton Board of Education turned down $8.1 million dollars in federal relief funds that could have been used for a broad spectrum of items, including remedial services, salaries and improvements to facilities.  

Camdenton was eligible to receive $8.1 million in the latest round of Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief funds (ESSER) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Securities Act (CARES). The $8.1 million was part of the third round of funds made available by the federal government. The funds are allocated through the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. 

The board turned down the grant money during a special meeting held last week. Following the meeting, President Gail Griswold said “the board voted to not apply for the American Rescue Plans ESSER 3 relief funds in which the total allocation for Camdenton was $8.1 million. We have already used many relief funds to date including ESSER 1 and 2 totaling over $4.5 million.”

Griswold went on to say, “the board has different reasons for not applying for the additional funds, but overall majority agreed that we have already budgeted and have relief funds for everything that would have been covered under ESSER 3.”

Under a proposal presented to the board by Assistant Superintendent Julie Dill at least 20% or $1.6 million of the funds were required to be used for remedial services to address academic needs of students based on lost instruction time. The proposed recommendations for the $1.6 million in funds, included salaries of three additional teachers at Dogwood, adding two counselors for the middle school, high school, and Horizons. The district could have used funds for before/after schools programs, assessment and professional development.

The remaining $6.5 million could have been allocated to a new HVAC system for Osage Beach Elementary, new security cameras at the Middle School as well as COVID leave for quarantined staff, substitute teacher pay to cover for teachers out with COVID, sanitizing materials, PPE, scrubbers and student technology. The district would have had until 2024 to use the funds. 

Griswold declined to discuss why the district didn't apply for the funds and use them to offset other programs, services and improvements. 

Griswold, Brian Butts, Hallie Kenze and Troy Risner voted against applying for the funds. Courtney Hulett and Eric Walters voted to apply. 

Board member Nancy Masterson was unable to attend the meeting due to a delayed vacation. However, following the meeting, Masterson, who is also president of the Missouri School Board Association, said she would have voted to apply for the funds. 

Griswold and Butts were elected in April. During the school board elections, both raised the district's finances as a red flag.

Since the vote taken at the meeting, the district's decision has drawn fire on social media from supporters on both sides of the issue.