Sue Pratt, coordinator of coronavirus relief funds, presented a breakdown of how RSU 9 plans to spend funding from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief II fund during the RSU 9 Board of Directors meeting on Tuesday, April 27. The board gave Pratt the go-ahead to send in the ESSER II application. Screenshot

FARMINGTON — Regional School Unit 9 presented its spending plans Tuesday, April 27, for a $2.4 million COVID-19 emergency relief grant.

In a presentation on spending plans to the board, Sue Pratt, coordinator of coronavirus relief funds, explained the grant, titled Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, or ESSER II, would fund financial needs incurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, including increased demand for social workers and new shelters to encourage outdoor classrooms.

The district would direct $1.40 million to “student support,” which Pratt said is “our top priority.” This 58% of the grant would be used to hire two additional social workers, one of whom will “focus on drugs and alcohol counseling” and two interventionist teachers at Mt. Blue Middle School and High School to support students struggling in the classroom. This area of the grant would also pay for student laptops and the supplies needed for a “full return,” which interim Superintendent Monique Poulin said the district is anticipating for the 2021-22 school year.

Another $683,581 would be directed toward “staff support” to bring on seven full-time substitute teachers, nurses at both the Mt. Blue Campus and Cape Cod Hill School, and laptop purchases for the K-12 staff.

An additional $50,000 would fund a “grant coordinator” to “finalize” ESSER I and II and “write the ESSER III, which is a $5.2 million grant,” according to Pratt.

The district plans to direct the remaining $274,253 toward “operation and maintenance of plant.” This would fund “very much needed projects,” according to Pratt, such as outside eating spaces and classrooms by way of new “multipurpose roof shelters” at Cascade Brook School, Mt. Blue Middle School and Mt. Blue High School.

These roof shelters would “help address some of the needs for a well-ventilated space (where) children can take a mask break” while being protected from the elements. Pratt also said this cost center would fund the ongoing rental of storage units that have been “very helpful at trying to create as much space in our classrooms as we can.”

During the meeting, Board member Cherieann Harrison raised concerns about creating new, full-time staff positions based off of a grant that will not provide consistent funding on a long-term basis.

“I know the district had been working on trying to not have long-term positions in grant funding. We had been trying for a few years to get that out of grant funding because then when the grant funds are over, we have to make the decision of whether or not we want to keep those positions,” Harrison explained.

I definitely understand with COVID the need for social workers and nurses on staff and for interventionists…These are positions, these are people that once they’re on staff and two years down the road and we no longer have that funding and we’re talking about a half a million dollars here, will that board feel like they want to support those positions at that time? I don’t know that. I’m just asking, was that part of the discussion and what is the plan,” she said.

In response, Board of Directors Chairperson Angela LeClair explained that “considering some of the needs are COVID related we felt it made sense for” the long-term positions to be funded by the grant.

We can assess them after having been there for a year or two to decide if it really needs to be and we can look back on the data and say we do need them. That can help the future board decide if they do need them or they don’t,” LeClair said. “That is the information we had, we felt like we did what was best for the district. Especially what was best for the students.”

Some of the positions, such as the new nurse at Mt. Blue Campus, call for the district to “reassess our needs at that time [that the funding ends],” Poulin said. She also noted that some positions might not be needed once the pandemic comes to an end. “We just know with COVID and the demands this year, it’s been incredibly challenging to meet those needs,” she said.

Without any objections from directors, Poulin gave Pratt the go-ahead to submit the grant application.

In other business, the board also passed motions to set the RSU 9 proposed budget at $3.89 million and the adult education budget at $447,406 and send both figures to the polls in a budget referendum on June 8, 2021.

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