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Teton County schools are getting $400,000 to cover increased costs associated with COVID-19.

The Community Foundation of Jackson Hole announced Friday that it had awarded the money to the Fund for Public Education, which raises money for the school district, through its Community Emergency Response Fund.

“The Community Emergency Response Fund was established at the onset of the pandemic to provide immediate support to our community’s most vulnerable groups.” Community Foundation President Laurie Andrews said in a press release. “Supporting the safe reopening of schools is a top priority for our whole community. I applaud the extensive measures that the school district is taking to safeguard hundreds of families.”

The money will be used to purchase safety equipment and improve remote education, which could involve buying more laptops or Wi-Fi hotspots. However, it isn’t nearly enough to cover all the district’s costs associated with mitigating the spread of the coronavirus in schools.

According to the press release, those costs will be $2.2 million, far higher than the $1.2 million Superintendent Gillian Chapman told the school board they would be in June. Federal and state relief will cover about 20%, and these funds are also about 20%, leaving the district on the hook for somewhere between $1.3 million and $1.4 million.

The Fund for Public Education hopes to continue fundraising to close that gap further, given the foundational role schools play in feeding children and providing a safe space while parents work.

“Over the past few months, the pandemic has reminded us all that public schools are an essential component of our community, not just for education, but for social services, mental health support, child care, meals, and so much more,” Executive Director Jennifer Jellen said in the press release.

The money doesn’t come as a surprise. During a special meeting Wednesday, the school board discussed the Community Foundation grant. Generally Chapman has a spending limit of $25,000 without board approval, but trustees voted to lift that cap for COVID-19 costs so Chapman could spend philanthropic or grant money.

That includes the Community Foundation money as well as anything else the Fund for Public Education might give to the district. It also covers $35,000 the Teton Board of Realtors gave to purchase temperature monitoring devices that will check students as they enter the buildings.

The motion the board passed limits the extended budgetary flexibility to grant money, meaning Chapman will need board approval for any COVID-19 mitigation purchases that exceed $25,000 if the money comes from the district’s general fund. That doesn’t mean, however, that they wouldn’t allow Chapman to spend more freely in the future.

“I’m not opposed to taking money out of the budget,” Trustee Keith Gingery said Wednesday. “So I’d like to have a longer discussion about it.”

The biggest purchase will be upgrades to school ventilation systems that will create more airflow inside the buildings even when winter and lower temperatures arrive. That could cost upwards of $200,000, Chapman told the board Wednesday. Other purchases could include new computers, and the flexible spending power is crucial to allow the district to buy things immediately.

“As we identify needs that come up the ability to place orders quickly is really important because of how long some of these supplies and materials and resources take to get shipped to us,” information coordinator Charlotte Reynolds told the Jackson Hole Daily, citing computer orders that make take months to arrive.

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com.

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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