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Flint, MI— Southwestern Classical Academy needs around $154,000 in “emergency” repairs to its boiler and heating systems, according to district officials.
But the repairs will have to wait. The Flint Community Schools Board of Education voted Feb. 9 to use their Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds–or ESSER funds–for the repairs in lieu of dipping into the district’s general fund. However, to use ESSER dollars, they must submit a request for proposal–or RFP, a document announcing a project to solicit contractors for bids. That process can take months.
Director of Operations Peter Medor told board members that some classrooms don’t have heat because of this issue.
“The system has seen its best day and needs immediate attention. And this is something that has been addressed before,” Medor said.
Superintendent Kevelin Jones said Medor brought the problem before the board during the prior month’s meeting, but the board tabled it for further discussion at committee meetings. Since then, the board has not held any committee meetings.
Jones said they could have submitted an RFP last month had they been directed to do so by the board, but they were treating it as an emergency situation. He said given this “context” the RFP process is usually bypassed so the issue can be addressed immediately.
“It was never a thought to do an RFP for this because it’s an emergency. So, when it’s an emergency, we have to get it done,” Jones said.
Board members said that while they could have been better about communication, dipping into the general fund when other funding sources are available was not an option at this time.
“We’re already in a deficit. Our general fund dollars are tight. We have these ESSER dollars available. So, to me, it is irresponsible as a district … for those reasons I will definitely not support this,” Trustee Carol McIntosh said.
ESSER funds are part of a federal plan to address the impact that COVID had, and continues to have, on education. Flint schools have already received approximately $54 million and expects an additional $99 million, a total of $153 million.
“Listen, our boiler and our heating systems are in trouble, okay? I wouldn’t have brought this here if I didn’t think it was crucial. And I realize you can find different ways to finance it, save money and all that. I wouldn’t have brought it here without doing an RFP if I didn’t think it was a timely matter,” Medor said, adding that if the boilers go down, Southwestern will be without heat.
In fall 2021, the district was combatting high heat in classrooms due to having no air conditioning. A month into the school year, Flint schools had cancelled 10 days of classes due to the heat. Michigan law allows school districts to cancel up to six days of instruction per school year without penalty. Heat days and snow days count towards this time.
McIntosh said she realizes students have already had to miss days but wants to remain fiscally responsible.
“We in the smack dead of winter and we haven’t checked our heat before now? There’s no excuse for this,” McIntosh said. “And now all of a sudden our backs (are) against the wall. Now we got government dollars for stuff like this.”
The motion failed, 7-0. It is not clear when the systems will be fixed, but due to material delays and the RFP process, Medor said it will likely be next winter.