Schools, flush with stimulus cash, moving slowly to spend it

PINEHURST, N.C. (WTVD) -- The start of a new school year is always exciting, but even veteran teachers like Jessica DeMestre recognize the unique anticipation reserved for this coming first day.

"It's hard to even recall those challenges from COVID because we're focused now on the future," DeMestre, a fifth-grade teacher at Pinehurst Elementary School, told ABC11. "We're just so excited to welcome our kids back five days a week and to be on campus every day."

Moore County Schools was among the few districts in North Carolina to offer in-person instruction throughout all last year, though students would be split into two pods, Monday-Tuesday and Thursday-Friday, with Wednesday reserved for cleaning.

"Having kids with you, in front of you, feeding off of you, reading the room, five days a week - every teacher prefers that," DeMestre explained. "We're focused on these kids coming to us and maximizing that we now have available to them."

What is available this year to the students- and teachers, and administrators, and school boards - is billions of dollars in relief money allocated from Congress and transferred directly to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. The three stimulus bills - two passed by President Trump, including the CARES Act, and one, the American Rescue Plan, signed by President Biden, sent $4.4 billion to the Tar Heel State specifically for K-12 education.

To date, more than $314 million of the $4.4 billion has been spent - but that leaves more than 92% of the cash still in the bank.

"For our district, it's been very helpful," Lindsay Whitley, an associate superintendent at Cumberland County Schools, said to ABC11. "It's been a detailed process but it hasn't been overwhelming. "As students return and we learn more about their needs and additional academic interventions, that's how we'll continue to use the funds."

With more than 50,000 students enrolled, Cumberland County was allocated roughly $200 million, of which just about $25 million has been spent. An ABC11 I-Team review of the receipts found the biggest expenses included teacher salaries and overtime, along with new Chromebooks and tablets for all students.

"There will be audits," Wh-tley assured. "We're following the guidelines we received from the state and federal levels."

Indeed, federal officials sought to pump money into schools to help offset costs for equipment, infrastructure improvements, bonuses, and to boost support in curriculum and extracurricular activities, among many other needs. The American Rescue Plan, moreover, gives districts until 2024 to spend allotted grants.

"When we think about these funds, they are an investment," Whitley added. "I think part of it is we're aligning it with our Strategic Plan, and that plan is to measure graduation rates, how students are doing on testing, family engagement and a variety of factors."

Back in Pinehurst, Jessica DeMestre is benefitting from a brand new school building paid for by a 2018 bond approved by voters; the facility obviously doesn't need big changes. Instead, DeMestre said, she wants to see the district invest in a different kind of infrastructure.
"I think social and emotional learning and wellness is going to top the priority list for us. We're filling in the gaps of the times they missed with peers and interaction."

The ABC11 I-Team reviewed the allocations and expenditures of several districts in the Triangle.
Cumberland County Schools:
  • Total expenditures: $24.9M
    1. Staff salaries and overtime: $6M
    2. Employee benefits: $1.9M
    3. Contracted services - $2.7M
    4. Workshops $24,257
    5. Printing and binding $63,044
    6. Contracted repairs/maintenance to equipment- $211,726
    7. Rentals/leases $337,500
    8. Field trips $21,667
    9. Telephones $1,590,279
    10. Postage $231,482
    11. Supplies and materials $2.8M -- includes more than $600K in PPE
    12. Textbooks $1.1M
    13. Computer software/supplies $669,082
    14. Repair parts, materials, grease and anti-freeze $367,962
    15. Furniture $1.6M
    16. Computers $3.8M (including $1M for students)
    17. Other costs: $1.2M
  • Total allotment: $214.5M
  • Balance: $189.6M
  • 88.4% remaining


Durham Public Schools
  • Total expenditures: $18.7M
    1. Staff salaries and overtime: $4.7M
    2. Employee benefits: $951,890
    3. Contracted services: $188,024
    4. Workshops: $49,930
    5. Mobile communications: $1.6M
    6. Supplies and materials $1.3M -- includes nearly 300K in PPE
    7. Textbooks $845,216
    8. Computer software/supplies: $785,275
    9. Furniture $37,440
    10. Computers $8.2M (including $2.2M for students)

  • Total allotment: $172.2M
  • Balance: $153.5M
  • 89.1% remaining


Johnston County Public Schools:
  • Total expenditures: $18.4M
    1. Staff salaries and overtime: $9.1M
    2. Employee benefits: $1.1M
    3. Contracted services - $200,102
    4. Workshops $201,628
    5. Other professional/technical contract services- $274,563
    6. Telecommunications $807,701
    7. Supplies and materials $2.6M -- includes more than $550K in PPE
    8. Textbooks $207,590
    9. Computer software/supplies $1.2M
    10. Furniture $132,920
    11. Computers $2.4M (including $671,563 for students)

  • Total allotment: $114.2M
  • Balance: $95.8M
  • 83.9% remaining


Moore County Schools:
  • Total expenditures: $4.2M
    1. Staff salaries and overtime: $1.6M
    2. Employee benefits: $364,434
    3. Contracted services - $9,862
    4. Workshops $6,000
    5. Psychological contract services: $63,419
    6. Mobile communication costs: $18,808
    7. Supplies and materials $800,867 -- includes more than $375K in PPE
    8. Computer software/supplies $382,106
    9. Furniture $68,165
    10. Computers $649,745 (including $249,225 for students)
    11. Other costs: $247,266


  • Total allotment: $31M
  • Balance: $26.8M
  • 86.5% remaining


Nash - Rocky Mount Public Schools
  • Total expenditures: $9.7M
    1. Staff salaries and overtime: $2.1M
    2. Employee benefits: $654,124
    3. Contracted services - $214,510
    4. Mobile communication costs: $218,621
    5. Supplies and materials $1.4M -- includes $133,946 in PPE
    6. Computer software/supplies $425,883
    7. Repair parts, materials, grease and anti-freeze $52,748
    8. Furniture $32,535
    9. Computers $4.2M (including $323,792 for students)
    10. Other costs: $123,823

  • Total allotment: $63.1M
  • Balance: $53.4M
  • 84.7% remaining


Orange County Schools
  • Total expenditures: $2.7M
    1. Staff salaries and overtime: $1.3M
    2. Employee benefits: $201,361
    3. Contracted services - $67,875
    4. Reproduction Costs: $28,388
    5. Postage $38,215
    6. Mobile communication costs: $49,709
    7. Supplies and materials $567,108 -- includes $234,698 in PPE
    8. Computer software/supplies $25,915
    9. Gas/Diesel $65,560
    10. Computers $344,906

  • Total allotment: $14.9M
  • Balance: $12.2M
  • 81.8% remaining


Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools
  • Total expenditures: $3.1M
    1. Staff salaries and overtime: $958,220
    2. Employee benefits: $85,844
    3. Contracted services - $241,595
    4. Supplies and materials $589,614 -- includes $112,617 in PPE
    5. Computer software/supplies $67,213
    6. Gas/Diesel: $100,240
    7. Furniture $215,933
    8. Computers $658,646 (including $187,474 for students)
  • Total allotment: $13.9M
  • Balance: $10.8M
  • 77.7% remaining


Wake County Public School System
  • Total expenditures: $29.7M
    1. Staff salaries and overtime: $6.3M
    2. Employee benefits: $2.4M
    3. Contracted services - $3.9M
    4. Workshops $114,545
    5. Printing and binding $284,535
    6. Psychological contract services: $182,115
    7. Supplies and materials $8.5M -- includes nearly $1.5M in PPE
    8. Textbooks $1.1M
    9. Computer software/supplies $413,826
    10. Gas/Diesel: $139,351
    11. Food: $145,696
    12. Furniture $1.6M
    13. Computers $4.7M (including $3.3M for students)
    14. Other costs: $2.5M
  • Total allotment: $370.9M
  • Balance: $341.2M
  • 92% remaining
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