Schools: Act now because ESSER deadlines are drawing near

INSIGHTS

Now is the time to reimagine how your school district operates. The ESSER spending deadline is approaching, but it’s not too late to set your schools up for long-term sustainable success. 

ESSER, or the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, has allotted billions of dollars to state educational agencies (SEAs) to provide funds to local education agencies (LEAs) to boost recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. There are three ESSER packages, l, ll, and lll, with deadlines to use the funds by September 30th of 2021, 2022, and 2023, respectively. As these dates approach, it’s imperative for your district to use these funds as an opportunity to review operational efficiency and make course corrections to maximize the ESSER dollars. When you engage with subject matter experts to assess, evaluate, and provide recommendations on how to evolve people/roles, policies, and programs, you can invest more dollars in the classroom. And isn’t that always a high priority? 

Restructuring your fiscal and operational house will indirectly and directly impact the classroom. Considering how significant a teacher’s influence may be with students, top talent should never be compromised. Yet if a district’s viability and financial sustainability are in question, attracting and retaining top talent becomes a grueling task. Furthermore, if your district spends less on transportation, food service, custodial, or other operational expenses, more money may be directly spent on students and academic impact. As ESSER funding flows into school districts, superintendents and school administrators now have a unique opportunity to make investments that will impact learning for future generations.  

Our team has experienced this challenge with Gary Community School Corporation in Gary, Indiana. In 2017, the district was facing a financial crisis and academic decline that put them on the brink of dissolving. The state intervened and asked an external operator, the MGT Team, to step in. To focus on academics, our team first had to assess Gary Schools’ current state of finances and operations. Deeply in debt and struggling to execute daily operations, we addressed the structural and operational issues that nearly caused the school corporation to cease operating completely. As a result of MGT’s help, Gary Schools are currently experiencing significant academic, fiscal, and operational improvements, as well as a diminishing annual deficit: from $22 million to $2 million. Learn more about what an operational analysis can do for your school here. 

It was critical to our Gary success that I collaborate with our in-house experts on finances, organizational alignment, human capital, and DEI to offer the most comprehensive plan for the district.  We understand how a school district functions because we are former school leaders and administrators. My advice to a school board member or superintendent? Use the one-time ESSER funding to make the critical changes while you can so you can reap the benefits long-term.