ORLANDO, Fla. – School districts in the nine counties that serve Central Florida families have spent in excess of $16 million combined on personal protective equipment over the last year, and some districts are unsure how much they will spend for the upcoming school year.
“We have supplies on hand, and we have the ability to get additional supplies as needed,” said Kim Dove, Facilities Services Director for Seminole County Public Schools.
Dove oversees the ordering and distribution of PPE and other materials to schools and facilities across the county.
She allowed News 6 inside one of the district’s warehouses where workers using forklifts hoisted boxes of PPE into place for distribution.
According to SCPS, the district spent $2.4 million during the 2021 fiscal year on COVID-related supplies, which includes masks, hand sanitizer, and misting machines, which treat large areas with virus-killing solvent.
“(That included) all of the supplies for disinfecting for misters. We also added additional staffing, custodial staffing, laundry service for microfiber towels,” she said.
It also included new high-tech air filters in air conditioning systems.
For the upcoming school year, SCPS spokesman Michael Lawrence said they’re addressing needs as they come up. He said the district does not have specific money set aside for PPE.
Orange County Schools agreed, saying the district spent $6 million on PPE last year.
That money, a spokesperson said, came mainly from state and federal grant funds and a small portion from the district’s general fund.
School districts in Volusia, Lake and Sumter counties also said they were paying for PPE out of other budgets.
Districts in Flagler and Osceola counties said they may spend less on PPE during the upcoming school year.
All Central Florida districts maintained they were not cutting back, and they want everyone to stay safe.
“We were thinking, ‘Alright, we’re going to have somewhat of a normal year, this year,’” said Andrew Spar. “We’re all getting excited, and then, all of a sudden this massive spike in COVID cases.”
Spar is the president of the Florida Education Association, and he said his organization is now pushing the state to release a third round of federal grant money to help districts pay for the added protection.
“Look, the governor needs to -- he needs to step up and release these dollars to school districts, so that school districts have all the resources available to them to do everything in their power to keep kids safe,” Spar said.
News 6 asked Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office about plans to release more of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds (ESSER), which are federal dollars obtained by states to help school districts.
“Florida opened schools for in-person instruction first, with more students in-person and a greater focus on closing achievement gaps in safe learning environments than any other state in the nation last year,” said Press Secretary Christina Pushaw. “Gov. DeSantis allocated more than $1.4 billion from the Coronavirus Relief Fund to keep schools open and make sure they could cover their expenses, and Florida school districts also received nearly $700 million from the CARES Act (ESSER I).
“Some Florida school districts recently alerted us that they need to transition to spending from CRRSA Act (ESSER II) funds. The notion that districts need to begin tapping into ARP Act (ESSER III) funds is premature by months, if not longer. Instead, Florida’s school leaders should be commended for making ESSER I funds last through the 2020-2021 school year and managing these resources wisely.
“It would be irresponsible to wastefully rush to spend these dollars before they are needed, as these funds are intended to address the full needs of educational recovery over multiple fiscal years,” she said.
In Seminole County, Dove said she is focusing on what is happening right now with students and staff returning to class.
“We are ready. We are ready for whatever decision you make. We have the supplies available,” she said.