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Public schools agrees to repay over $500K in COVID-19 relief funds, but claims no rules were broken

By Dacoda Wahpekeche

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    Oklahoma (KOCO) — Mid-Del Public Schools committed to repaying more than $500,000 in federal COVID-19 relief funds that were spent on athletic fields.

State Superintendent Ryan Walters labeled this as a blatant misuse of federal tax dollars.

“They have made terrible decisions there. They’ve mismanaged funds,” Walters said.

The school district was among many in Oklahoma that received a portion of the $1.2 billion awarded through three batches of COVID-19 funding, according to the state’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund dashboard.

Mid-Del received over $12 million from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act. This act was the second batch of COVID-19 funding.

On Wednesday, the Oklahoma State Department of Education and Walters sent a letter to Mid-Del, saying the district mismanaged some of the relief money.

“We will be watchdogs of their dollars. We will continue to do that,” Walters said.

An amount of $588,000 was used for athletic lawn services, according to OSDE, something Walters said the funds couldn’t be used for. Mid-Del, however, argued that the rule prohibiting the use of funds on athletics was implemented after the money had already been spent.

“Not only do we need to figure out how we fix this for the time being on the funds they have spent inappropriately, we’re going to have to find a way to move forward and do it in a way that they’re actually accountable for the funds put in their use,” Walters said.

Other school districts across the state also received COVID-19 relief funds. Oklahoma City Public Schools received more than $130 million. Edmond received nearly $15 million, and Putnam City got more than $37 million.

Walters hinted that other districts may also be under scrutiny for their use of the funds.

“This is where we first moved because it was the clearest example of money not being spent appropriately. There are several districts we’ve been looking into investigating further,” Walters said.

While Mid-Del is working on a full response for the State Department of Education, it will be reviewing its policies and procedures. The district maintains that its spending was in line with its understanding of the federal guidelines and those of the Oklahoma State Department of Education staff.

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