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How much does COVID-19 protection cost Indiana school districts?

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Limiting the spread of coronavirus cost local school districts tens of thousands up to hundreds of thousands of dollars — before the school year even began.

The money was used for personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, shields, disinfectants, gloves and protective barriers. The totals do not factor in potentially larger coronavirus-related expenses like technology for e-learning.

The CBS4 Problem Solvers team sent public record requests to more than a dozen central Indiana school districts to find out how much they spent on protective equipment, which items they purchased and how they plan to cover the cost.

Ten districts provided spending totals, while Zionsville and Danville did not respond. Noblesville offered a description of items purchased but said it’s still working on financial information.

Anderson spent the least, confirming it shelled out about $29,000 for face masks, shields and cleaning supplies.

Cost of PPE for central Indiana schools

Carmel Clay Schools also fell on the low end, paying $40,000 for hand sanitizers and masks. A spokesperson said they will likely spend another $10,000-$20,000 throughout the school year, with most of the money coming from their operational fund.

Hamilton Southeastern paid almost $78,000 for face masks and shields, but it has yet to put in specific orders for gloves, gowns or other types of PPE. The photos below show the surplus of masks and shields the district has piled away.

Decatur, Perry Township and Warren Township spent between $150,000 and $210,000. Wayne Township costs reached about $300,000.

Indianapolis Public Schools and Brownsburg had the highest totals, each spending more than $480,000 on equipment like water bottles, bottle fillers, gloves, gowns, signage and “electrostatic disinfection materials.”

Of all the districts, Avon was by far the most transparent. They sent us an itemized list of all PPE purchases. The most expensive line item: hand sanitizer bottles, pumps and drums that totaled more than $46,000 alone.

We wanted to find out why PPE costs varied so widely from one area to the next, but none of the districts were willing to comment further or do an interview with us.

How will schools pay for this PPE?

Many of the responding school districts said they hoped to use a combination of CARES Act money and FEMA grants to cover the cost.

Indiana received a total of $276 million for K-12 education through the CARES Act, the federal economic relief package signed into law in March as a response to coronavirus.

Adam Baker, press secretary for the Indiana Department of Education, said that while schools can use CARES Act funding to pay for PPE, very little has been spent that way thus far. Most schools are choosing to use the money for other items.

Schools have two years to spend CARES Act money. Many Indiana districts have not actually received their funding yet because they’ve either filed an extension or plan to spend the money on items that are not yet needed.

FEMA funding, as it became apparent this week, is going to be very limited for PPE equipment. Starting September 15, the agency will only cover the cost of PPE when it’s used to support other FEMA emergency-related activities, but not for day-to-day operations.

Find out how much your school district was allotted for CARES funding. The list includes data for 389 Indiana districts.

In a conference call Thursday, FEMA spokesman Keith Turi said the activities must be related to “immediate threats to life and safety” due to the pandemic. FEMA never covers the cost of day-to-day government operations, even if they’re related to an emergency like COVID-19, he said.

FEMA indicated that PPE costs are better suited for other areas of funding, but the agency did not elaborate on which sources of funding.

The CBS4 Problem Solvers team is continuing to investigate coronavirus-related expenses and funding for central Indiana schools, including costs associated with technology and the shift to remote learning.

After learning IPS shelled out $16 million to equip students with devices, we’re looking into how much other school districts have spent as well.

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