Education Beat: New school year starts with $156 million ESSER funding moves; new backpack policy in place, administrative changes announced; Washington demo delayed; MSU partnership renewed

By Harold C. Ford

A new academic year at Flint Community Schools (FCS) began Aug. 9, as students reported back to school under a newly-adopted backpack policy.

The day before, on Aug. 8, several changes in administration positions were announced by FCS Superintendent Kevelin Jones in a press statement.

And at its Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting, also on Aug. 9, the Flint Board of Education (FBOE):

  • gained clarity on the status of $156 million in ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funding and expenditures.
  • delayed the demolition of Washington Elementary – torched by arsonists —  for about a month as the FBOE decided to reopen bids for the project.
  • renewed the district’s partnership with Michigan State University’s Fellowship of Instructional Leaders.

 Eight ESSER grants totaled $156,770,000

Interim Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Brian Jones provided unprecedented clarity about the massive amount of COVID-19 relief funding – a whopping $156.7 million – made available to Flint schools via eight waves of ESSER grants from federal and state governments.

“That’s a lot of money,” Jones concluded.

FCS Interim-Chief Financial Officer Brian Jones (Photo source: LinkedIn)

Four grants, termed “the biggies” by Jones, included the following four federal grants*:

  • ESSER 1: FCS spent about $9.226 million of a $9.450 million grant. “We had not fully spent that grant,” reported Jones. “Our general fund ate that cost.”

Jones indicated the amount lost – $223,961, about 2.4 percent of the ESSER 1 grant – could not be recovered by the district. “We had to send it back.”

“I think you did excellent,” concluded Jones who came on the job only months ago after a spate of FCS central administrative resignations – including then-CFO Latisha Wolf – in April 2023. ESSER funding originated as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic at the federal government level in March 2021.

“Can we agree the goal is to spend every dime?” asked Melody Relerford, FBOE trustee. “Absolutely,” Jones responded, “I don’t like to leave a dime on the table.”

The sunset (end date) for ESSER 1 was September, 2021.

  • ESSER 2: ESSER 2 funds available to FCS totaled approximately $44.2 million. “We did spend all of that,” Jones reported.

The sunset for ESSER 2 was September, 2022.

  • ESSER 3: The ESSER 3 grant, $99.4 million, is “a work in progress” according to Interim CFO Jones; about $17.8 million has been spent, leaving more than $80 million for the district to use.


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FCS Superintendent Kevelin Jones reported a “back and forth” process, at present, between FCS and Michigan state government in spending the ESSER 3 grant as expenditure of these dollars requires state approval. “What we’re doing now is sending it through for full approval,” Jones said. “The state has yet to approve.”

Flint’s superintendent explained that a goodly portion of ESSER 3 monies is being spent on renovation projects at Flint’s 11 school campuses (Details about campus renovations was reported by East Village Magazine on July 26, 2023. Jones cautioned, however, that 20 percent of ESSER 3 “had to be spent on academics.”

The sunset for ESSER 3 is September, 2024.

  • ESSER EQ: “We’ve spent about 80 percent of that money,” said Interim CFO Jones, about $1.5 million of $1.9 million received.

The remaining four grants – ESSER Benchmark and Geer (federal grants) and Section 11(P) and Section 103(d-2) (state grants) were all “closed out” according to Interim CFO Jones. “The district spent all the money that was allocated,” Jones said. “There’s no outstanding balance.”

At the end of the ESSER presentation, FBOE President Michael Clack deduced that 98.9 percent of ESSER dollars awarded FCS were on track to be spent.

“That’s exactly right,” Brian Jones responded. “You spent everything but a penny on a dollar. This is an outstanding job.”

“The level of transparency,” added FBOE Assistant Secretary/Treasurer Laura MacIntyre, “this is wonderful.”

[*Grant amounts are rounded off for readability and ease of understanding.]

Revised backpack policy, new administrators

A revised backpack policy and new administrators greeted students upon their return to school Aug. 9.

Revised backpack policy

FCS Superintendent Jones announced “an important safety measure” in a July 21, 2023 letter to Flint families:

  • Students in pre-K to sixth grade will have the option to use a clear backpack at no cost to the students; the district will provide them if needed.
  • Students in grades 7-12 will not be allowed to have backpacks. Small purses with personal items, gym clothes in clear plastic bags, and lunchboxes will be allowed “within reason.”

Jones said the policy had gotten the approval of the FBOE and the district’s administrators. The policy change was also supported by safety advocates and the Flint Police Department, according to Jones.

Additionally, all visitors to FCS buildings will need to present a valid driver license or state ID.

Jones cited safety as the rationale for the policy changes: “Across the country, we have seen an increase in threatening behavior and contraband, including weapons, being brought into schools at all levels,”  he said.

Administrative changes

Jones announced several changes in the FCS administrative lineup in an Aug. 8 communique:

  • Most notably, Kelly Fields left her principalship at Accelerated Learning Academy (ALA) for a central administrator position as executive director of academics.
  • Richard Russell transitioned from assistant principal at Southwestern to ALA principal.
  • Donnetta Moore-Beaugard stepped up from assistant principal to principal at Holmes.
  • Julie Groce was appointed the new principal at Freeman Elementary.
  • KaSandra Cookenmaster was named the new principal at Neithercut.

Washington demolition delayed

 The anticipated demolition of Washington Elementary, at 1400 N. Vernon on Flint’s east side, was delayed by the FBOE at its Aug. 9 meeting. The century-old building closed in 2014.  Repeatedly  targeted by arsonists and vandals, the building has been considered an eyesore and endangerment to the public by area residents and school officials.

“It’s the worst looking property we have,” Jones said at a meeting earlier in 2023. “We have to do something,” added FBOE Treasurer Dylan Luna.

Flint’s school board did do something; it approved the demolition of Washington at its May 17 meeting for a then-projected cost of more than $700,000. 

A very public process toward the Washington demolition that included deadlines for applications and project bids (costs) was to have moved forward at the FBOE’s May meetings with the award of a contract for $680,000 to a successful bidder.

Four of the six bidders had completed the process; two did not. At least one of the two incomplete bids did not include a “familial disclosure statement” that is designed to disclose familial ties between bidders and school officials. A complaint was made to school officials by a failed bidder.

FBOE members roundly debated the matter for about an hour at its Aug. 9 meeting. A sampling of the debate follows:

  • Relerford: “A re-bid would be the best thing”.
  • Terae King, FBOE trustee: King said he was present at the opening of the bids and that everything he observed was as advertised and above-board. “We shouldn’t lower our expectations,” he said.
  • Joyce Ellis-McNeal, vice president: “The (minority) construction companies are saying they aren’t getting a fair chance at this.”
  • Clack: “If they (bidders) failed, why should we stop our process?”
  • MacIntyre: “There are rules and regulations that are extra-legal … and have been used to disenfranchise and discriminate particularly against minority populations … I think we should reopen the bids.”
  • Jones: “I believe that we’ve done what we were supposed to do as a district.”

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In the end, the bidding process for the Washington School demolition was reopened by a 4-3 vote. Voting to reopen the bids were McNeal, MacIntyre, Relerford and Claudia Perkins, FBOE secretary; voting against were Clack, King, and Luna.

A new timeline for the reopened bidding process is expected to end with the awarding of a contract at the board’s mid-October meetings, according to Clark Construction officials who have helped oversee the process.

MSU partnership renewed

The Fellowship of Instructional Leaders, the name for an FCS-Michigan State University partnership, was renewed by the FBOE by a vote of 7-0 after being batched (grouped) with other items on the agenda. Approval followed a lively exchange between Relerford and Brian Beverly, director, MSU office of K-12 outreach. A sampling:

  • Relerford: “With the price the district is paying you all … what difference have you all made?”
  • Beverly: “I think we’ve helped the district keep from going completely under … in terms of instruction. I think that we’ve allowed teachers to be able to focus on instruction instead of focusing on some of the other chaos at the policy level and administrative level.”

Earlier in the conversation, Beverly noted “some significant struggles … each time you change leadership, you change the priorities, you change the focus.”

Bryan Beverly, director, MSU Office of K-12 Outreach
(Photo source: LinkedIn)

Beverly added, “The fact that you’ve got a consistent superintendent now is a huge step in the right direction … Mr. Jones is hyper-focused, first on partnership goals, but also making sure culture and climate is strong in this district.”

* * * * *

Future meetings of the FBOE for the 2023 calendar year are scheduled for: Sept. 13 and 20; Oct. 11 and 18; Nov. 8 and 15; and Dec. 13 (two meetings). Check the FCS website for location of meetings. Meetings start at 6:30 p.m. and can be viewed on YouTube.

ESSER image from National Math Foundation

ESSER image from Education Advanced

EVM Education Beat reporter Harold C. Ford can be reached at

Author: Tom Travis

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