September 30, 2021 By Kat Crockett
The American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) became law in March 2021, allocating about $7.6 billion to Arizona for COVID-19 relief and recovery, which the state dispersed directly to counties, municipalities, libraries, and schools. According to Patagonia Schools Superintendent Kenny Hayes and Sonoita School Superintendent Mary Faley, the first funds were dispersed in January 2021, again in August, and the third grant will be disbursed over the next two years. The Patagonia Union High School is receiving $600,000, Patagonia Elementary School is receiving $363,000; and Sonoita Elgin Elementary School is receiving $409,800 for a total of $1,372,800.
Hayes said that funds were used for PPE, online services, chromebooks, and at-home meals for students who qualified for the free lunch program. Also, technology for social and emotional learning, teacher classroom cameras, libraries, platforms for virtual learning, creating hot spots for virtual learning, safety, and summer school to address learning gaps. These funds will continue to be used to address learning losses and summer school programs. According to Hayes, “it’s nice to have the additional funds to help us with distance learning, but it would also be nice to have emergencies funded in the annual budget process.”
Faley reported that funds were used for staffing and materials needed to keep the campus open during the 2020-21 school year, including room sanitizers, disinfectant, PPE, water bottles for students, water fountains retrofitted as water bottle refill stations, hand sanitizer, hand sanitizer dispensers, plexiglass partitions, UV wands to sanitize shared materials, nursing supplies, posters, thermometers, picnic tables for outdoor instructional space, rolling carts for proving special classes in homerooms, and sliding windows to increase ventilation in classrooms.
In addition, funds were used for salary and benefits for staff who sanitized the campus, installed equipment and provided extended instruction.
Faley added, “we had a significant loss in enrollment during the 2020-21 school year, which resulted in a loss of funding. In addition to the expenditures listed above, funding enabled us to retain staff and continue to provide the same level of staffing and services and we provided in previous years.”
Patagonia Librarian Laura Wenzel received a grant from the state for just over $17,500. $11,000 will support a mobile modular circulation desk for social distancing and communication between staff and patrons, along with supplies and materials for health and safety and displays. An additional $5,600 is allocated to a one-year PressReader digital subscription for patrons to access over 2,000 national and international news sources through the library’s website or accessed from any device at home. Also, the library will purchase a one-year subscription to Digital Theatre+ to enable patrons of the library to access an ever-growing collection of world theatre and archived collections covering a breadth of genres, and periods, as well as interviews. The Patagonia Community Arts Association/Tin Shed Theater will partner with the library to provide virtual and in-person programs and education content for local schools and community members.
According to Jennifer Riehl, of the Sonoita Library, they received PPE products from the main branch in Nogales but have not received any funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. They are in the process of meeting with county officials on a potential repurposing of the County Building in Sonoita to include impacts on the library space.
The State allocated approximately $9million to Santa Cruz County, half for this fiscal year and half for next fiscal year. District 3 Supervisor Bruce Bracker commented that following a study session in April, “we are looking at a division of the funding into replacement of revenue streams lost by the County for essential services, support to local businesses and nonprofits, and investments into broadband.” At the study session, County staff recommended the board set aside $2million of the funds for contingencies related to the pandemic and state-mandated costs in upcoming years.
The County hired an outside consultant who reached out to numerous individuals, small businesses, nonprofits, schools, and organizations to discuss their needs to recover from the last 18 months of this pandemic. They are using that report to guide spending for the ARP monies, help develop application processes and a spending plan for non-profits and small businesses, as well as maintain oversight of the money. Bracker added, “We are still waiting on the “final rule” from the federal government as to how the money can be spent before finalizing any community projects. Depending on when we receive the guidance from the Feds, we would like to start taking applications in late October, early November. In the meantime, we are monitoring and talking to other counties to see what their spending plans are as well for ideas.”