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Franklin County Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker plans to distribute CARES Act funds directly to public schools from the county’s $11 million portion of the federal relief program.

When Brinker initially made the announcement Tuesday, he said both public and private school districts would be offered $250 per student for COVID-19-related expenses, but the Archdiocese of St. Louis said its schools cannot accept federal financial assistance in the form of direct monetary funding in order to keep the Catholic schools’ nonprofit status.

The one-time payments offered by the county are made possible after a change in federal guidelines from the U.S. Department of the Treasury in an effort to streamline the CARES Act funding process.

There are 13 public school districts in Franklin County, eight Catholic schools, one Lutheran, one interdenominational and one nonparochial private school.

Brinker estimated the county’s payout to schools would be more than $2 million.

Maria Lemakis, multimedia manager for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, said while Archdiocese of St. Louis schools cannot accept monetary funding, they are able to accept goods and services purchased by the local government with funds received by the federal government.

Brinker told The Missourian the county is willing to accommodate the Archdiocesan schools. “It’s going to be up to the (Catholic) schools to ask,” he said. “We will definitely work with them. We just need to sit down and talk about it.”

The new guidelines from the Department of the Treasury allowed the county to pay up to $500 per student for COVID-19-related expenses, but Brinker said the county, on advice from its legal counsel, Mark Piontek, decided to pay $250 per student to reserve CARES funds for unknown contingencies. “We want to be very conservative in how we disperse these funds,” Brinker said. “We don’t know what the future will hold, and we want to be prepared.”

Brinker said the county will be requesting exact enrollment numbers from all of the K-8 and K-12 school districts in the county.  “The notice to districts is being drafted and should go out this week,” he said, adding that a “grand total” of funds to be paid out will not be known until the enrollments are submitted.

“Once that official count has been received, the commission will order payment directly to the institution,” Brinker said. “Any funds already awarded by Franklin County to the enterprise will be subtracted from this payment.”

Franklin County Treasurer Debbie Aholt said only four school districts have received CARES Act reimbursement funds to date.

“Meramec Valley R-III received $36,454 on Aug. 7,” Aholt said. “Franklin County R-II received $10,109 and New Haven School received $30,600, both on Aug. 27. On Sept. 16, the Sullivan School District received $20,325 in CARES Act reimbursement.”

Brinker said the $250 per student will only apply to students who reside in Franklin County, no matter  where they attend school. Half a dozen of the public school districts listed in Franklin County host students from outside the county’s borders.

Washington School District leads the county with a total enrollment of 3,550 students and going by the $250 standard, would receive just under $890,000.

Union R-XI Superintendent Dr. Steve Weinhold said that district’s student population is about 3,100, and he is awaiting official guidance from the county to determine exact enrollment numbers.  

Meramec Valley R-III School District, consisting of nine schools and the cities of Gray Summit, Villa Ridge and Pacific, had an overall enrollment of 2,924. Students living in Jefferson and St. Louis counties also attend MVR-III schools.

In St. Clair, the overall enrollment is 2,100 students. School officials there said they plan to use CARES funds for increased transportation and remote learning expenses and to pay for personal protective equipment and overtime for custodial staff.

Sullivan School District has a student enrollment of 2,019 students, but some of the students there are residents of Crawford and Washington counties.