HALLOWELL — After coronavirus reduction funds have been used to cowl a part of the price of outside lights on the Corridor-Dale Center and Excessive Faculty sports activities fields, Regional Faculty Unit 2 faculty board members started asking the place cash was being spent throughout the district.
Faculty board members didn’t know sports-related objects may very well be bought with coronavirus reduction funds, elevating questions among the many board members of the place the cash was being spent on the different RSU 2 colleges, in response to emails obtained by the Kennebec Journal by means of a public data request.
Superintendent Tonya Arnold advised the college board in a Jan. 6 electronic mail that the Maine Division of Training “permitted the undertaking as a COVID-related want primarily based on the necessity to have the ability to permit outside occasions, reminiscent of commencement or prolonged time for athletic actions to fulfill the bodily distancing necessities.” The outside lights additionally have been partially paid for with cash from the Simmons Fund, which is solely for Corridor-Dale colleges’ sports-related purchases.
The query about paying for the lights utilizing coronavirus reduction funds have been amongst a number of queries that faculty board members have made in current months about how the cash has been spent and the place. The emails underscore that faculty officers nonetheless don’t have all of these solutions, with the superintendent saying it could take a devoted individual days of intense investigation.
The newspaper obtained about 30 emails from the college district by means of a Freedom of Entry Act request, after narrowing a request to grasp how the coronavirus reduction cash was spent, how private protecting tools was distributed all through the district and different dialogue associated to the coronavirus. Arnold mentioned the newspaper’s unique request for such info was an “onerous burden” to the employees.
Kathryn Marseglia, a faculty board member from Dresden, requested Arnold on two totally different events — Jan. 7 and Jan. 25 — the place the cash was spent and how. On Jan. 7, she requested about Dresden Elementary Faculty and how different administrations within the space “prioritized their undertaking requests.”
“The notion is Corridor-Dale obtained preferential remedy in acquiring funds for this sort of undertaking,” Marseglia wrote. “As they are saying, ‘Notion is actuality.’ Maybe directors may talk to their neighborhood what tasks they prioritized and obtained enjoyableds to allay this notion.”
In response to Marseglia’s Jan. 7 electronic mail, Arnold provided a listing of things bought for Dresden Elementary Faculty, as of Jan. 6, with out prices included. In accordance with Arnold, Dresden used coronavirus reduction funds to pay for:
• a brand new air flow system
• hand-free fixtures for the loos
• consuming fountains with bottle fills
• followers, air purifiers, sanitation provides, plexiglass, and private protecting tools
• a shed, tents and assets/provides for growing outside training
• further custodial, substitute, tutoring and nurse help
• expertise units, web hotspots/join and software program together with tutorial provides to help distant studying
• social and emotional studying skilled improvement
Purchases made with coronavirus reduction funds should meet sure federal standards — principally associated to classroom challenges associated to the COVID-19 pandemic — and be permitted by the Maine Division of Training. In a Jan. 29 electronic mail to the college board, Arnold confused that coronavirus reduction cash is just not a “alternative fund” and should “tackle particular challenges incurred due to COVID-19,” per state guidelines.
Deveaux mentioned the outside lighting was permitted by means of coronavirus reduction funds.
Nicole Denis, the federal fiscal coordinator for the Maine Division of Training, advised the Kennebec Journal that her company accepted RSU 2’s rationale that the lights have been an applicable use of the reduction funding due to the flexibility to have actions reminiscent of band follow, refrain, theater, educational exhibitions and graduations outdoors that may historically be held inside.
Marseglia adopted her preliminary electronic mail with one other Jan. 25, despatched after Arnold advised board members they might obtain “detailed info” concerning the subsequent spherical of coronavirus funding on the board’s Finance Committee assembly. Marseglia requested whether or not the further info would come with the greenback figures spent for every class for every faculty, reminiscent of athletic division provides and bigger objects reminiscent of stadium lights.
In response, Arnold despatched an electronic mail Jan. 27 that went to the complete RSU 2 faculty board. She wrote “there may be not automated monitoring that may present a fast whole by faculty for the (coronavirus reduction fund) grant purchases. There are 4-5 inches of paper invoices for one month price of bills being compiled for only one reimbursement request from the DOE.”
In accordance with the state, as of April 9, RSU 2 nonetheless had $2.91 million unspent from a complete allocation of $4.88 million in coronavirus reduction funds.
“An in depth trial steadiness may simply be offered by the college to the college board,” Kelli Deveaux, Maine Division of Training spokesperson, mentioned April 9.
Deveaux added, as Arnold mentioned, there will be “tons of of pages of backups.”
Russ Hughes, an RSU 2 faculty board member from Richmond, in a Jan. 27 electronic mail additionally requested for a complete quantity of coronavirus reduction cash spent by the district. He additionally requested for clarification of what was being paid for with COVID-19 funds and from the Simmons Fund.
Jon Hamann, RSU 2 faculty board chairperson and member from Monmouth, responded to the questions from Hughes and Marseglia by telling them to “give attention to the 21-22 fiscal yr finances.”
“The aim of this assembly is to not audit the CARES Act expenditures from the present yr,” he wrote on Jan. 27. “(Redacted) is presently working unsustainable hours simply to course of all the pieces on (redacted) plate, which incorporates important reporting for all of those grants. To supply the form of breakdowns I’ve heard requested would require a devoted individual for dozens of hours.”
However within the emails obtained by the Kennebec Journal, a Jan. 28 message from Arnold references a place made potential by coronavirus reduction funds that may “help overflow from every of the finance workplace employees to cut back extra time (and stress) and in addition function a receptionist.”
In accordance with the emails, the place was not but crammed by the top of January, however board member Daybreak Gallagher requested if the board may assist promote the place.
Although every RSU 2 faculty has its personal listing of things to be bought with COVID-19 reduction funds, some bills have been utilized uniformly throughout the district. That features funding for additional substitute support, tutorial provides to help distant studying, provides for particular person use, tutoring help, and social and emotional skilled improvement.
Faculty principals have been in a position to counsel their very own objects.
“No faculty’s request was prioritized over different colleges,” Arnold mentioned in a Jan. 27 electronic mail to the college board. “All requests that met the DOE standards and the deadlines for documentation to submit with the appliance have been included and permitted by the DOE.”
She referenced the bikes and outside tools within the electronic mail and mentioned, “these two objects are examples of what appears unequal on one listing, may truly be creating fairness.”
As an example, Richmond Center and Excessive Faculty utilized for and obtained a non-public grant firstly of the college yr as a way to purchase bikes for its college students.
In response to the emails from Hughes and Marseglia, Arnold mentioned the main focus “must be on the submission of the DOE reporting to obtain reimbursements, 20-21 finances preparation, and on our technique of getting ready for the brand new ESSER 2 software.”
“Assembly the minimal wants of every of these tasks will in themselves, take working excessive hours of extra time, which isn’t sustainable as Jon (Hamann) talked about,” she mentioned.
Arnold was referring to RSU 2’s 2021-2022 finances, which on the time of the e-mail communications, had a 4.01% spending improve, even with coronavirus funds out there. That has since been diminished to a 2.99% improve, however cities are nonetheless struggling with how residents pays the tax hike and Dresden contemplating leaving the college district. Richmond residents will vote June 8 on whether or not or to not withdraw from RSU 2.
The college board mentioned the steep rise within the finances is basically resulting from salaries with contractual will increase and prices past the district’s management, together with the expense of sustaining faculty buildings.
“The spending on this faculty yr’s finances continues to be on finances,” Arnold mentioned Friday to the Kennebec Journal. “As we’ve shared earlier than, prices have elevated considerably this yr as a result of affect of COVID-19 and the grant funds have been solely allowed for use for brand spanking new unbudgeted wants that associated to COVID-19 or assembly the security pointers and unanticipated scholar wants.”
The college board will meet through Zoom at 6 p.m. Thursday to approve its 2021-2022 spending plan and the person city assessments.