Mason City Schools receives federal funds for Coronavirus related expenses

Scott Reckers | Staff Writer

The price to educate children during a global pandemic is not cheap.  After taking costly precautions to keep students and staff safe, Mason City Schools is working hard to balance their books. 

Since the start of the pandemic, MCS has experienced countless unexpected expenses as a result of preventative measures taken to slow the spread of COVID-19. The district has received financial help:  $1,221,460.40 to be exact. MCS Treasurer Shaun Bevan said the funds root from the Coronavirus Aide, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a federal stimulus bill. 

“The CARES Act was a piece of federal legislation that made funding available from the federal government, but school districts didn’t receive any funding directly from the federal government,” Bevan said. “However, we did receive some CARES Act funding via intermediate sources, such as through the Warren County Board of County Commissioners. They took action to allocate a portion of the CARES Act funding that the County received to Mason City Schools and other school districts in Warren County.”

As Treasurer, Bevan has a big picture view of how the virus has affected MCS and knows where the funds have gone. The district has had to spend a great deal of money to keep students learning safely. Bevan said the funding from The CARES Act will go into paying that loss off.

“Big picture, COVID has impacted us financially with increased expenses and revenue loss,” Bevan said. “Investment revenues and bonds are down with the rest of the economy. In total, we are over $6 million to the negative, even when you factor in The CARES Act funding. It has really hit hard.”

The district is putting time, effort and money into keeping student and staff COVID cases down so that in-person learning can continue. The district has adhered to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus, requiring the purchase of supplies. For example, even if a student elects to do online school, they must have certain resources in order to do so effectively. 

“We have spent money on hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, personal protection equipment, and learning supplies, which could be anything like remote learning software or devices,” Bevan said. “We are not cutting corners to save money or anything. We are making sure the environment is safe.”

Administrators had to factor in the district’s four school buildings, administrative office, and remote learners to make their decisions before the school year began. Ensuring staff safety is equally as important as student safety to MCS. Bevan said the third category of what money from the CARES Act will fund is for the staff. “It’s what we call COVID leave,” Bevan said. “It allows for any employees across the country, not just schools, to get paid leave if they get COVID or have to be quarantined.” 

With the highly contagious nature of the virus, some teachers may feel they need to do more to be safe, even while the district is supplying them with cleaning supplies and personal protection equipment, or PPE. “On a district level, we work hard to make sure our staff have when they need to teach and stay safe effectively by supplying them with learning supplies and safety supplies that they need,” Bevan said. “Safety is always an utmost priority.”

Bevan said he is proud of all the staff at Mason: “We have a very committed staff– some may go above and beyond and spend their own dollars in the classrooms which really shows how much they care,” Bevan said.

The CARES Act will not visibly change anything at Mason, but the debt relief the money provides will help MCS through the difficult financial needs brought upon by the ongoing pandemic. “COVID has had a major impact on everyone, but we have worked very hard to stay open and have a safe learning environment,” Bevan said.

Graphic by Scott Reckers