The Blaine County School District will use the coronavirus relief money it has received through the federal CARES Act to provide staff with a one-time stipend, the district’s Board of Trustees determined Tuesday night.

Full-time certified and classified staff members will receive a payment of $1,600; that amount will be prorated for part-time employees. Administrators will not receive a stipend.

The payments are intended as an acknowledgement of the additional work and risk teachers and school staff have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes said.

“It seems to me that we are doing this work on the backs of our employees and we need to be gracious and thankful for that,” Holmes told the trustees.

The Blaine County School District has been allocated $1,069,877 in federal coronavirus relief funding through the state of Idaho, under the condition that the money be put toward COVID-related expenses and spent by the end of March.

A previous meeting between administrators and representatives from the Blaine County Education Association, which serves as the local teachers union, had resulted in a proposal for a $2,000 stipend per employee. The school board rejected that proposal Tuesday, as it would have cost more than the amount of CARES Act funding the district has received—requiring the district to dip into its contingency fund to make up the difference. The total cost of the $2,000 stipend proposal was $1,336,265; to cover it, the district would have had to take $266,388 from the contingency fund.

The cost of the $1,600 stipend plan will be fully covered by the CARES Act funding, eliminating the need for the district to use any of its contingency fund.

At Tuesday’s meeting, board members expressed concerns that dipping into the contingency fund at a time when the district’s financial future is uncertain may not be fiscally responsible. The district’s student body is down 230 students from last year—and the financial impact of that decrease is yet unknown, district finance manager Bryan Fletcher noted.

“Frankly, I don’t see a cavalry coming to the rescue of our financial situation here,” Trustee Dan Turner said. “I think it’s on all of us to be as prudent and conservative as possible when it comes to doling out what little resources we have here. I think we owe that to our taxpayers.”

Email the writer: gkauffman@mtexpress.com

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