Superintendent Pat Hopkins discusses the American Rescue Plan Act with the Maine School Administrative District 11 finance committee during Tuesday’s meeting in Gardiner. Zoom screenshot

GARDINER —  Maine School Administrative District 11 officials have worked to finalize the district’s application for American Rescue Plan funds and discussed ways the district plans to spend the nearly $3.6 million it expects to receive over a two-year period.

The main goals for the money are to reduce class size to help in-person learning, curriculum materials and staffing to support academic acceleration, and wellness and facility management to ensure safe and healthy learning.

Federal guidelines for the American Rescue Plan, also known as the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, requires school districts to designate at least 20% of the grant to potential learning gaps from the coronavirus pandemic and encourages schools to spend the money over a two-year period.

Superintendent Patricia Hopkins went over the spending plan with the board’s finance committee Tuesday and updated members on any final revisions to the outline before she submits it at the end of the month. Hopkins went through the reasoning for each spending area and did so in a letter to the community, too.

To target the learning gaps, MSAD 11 set aside $877,682 and plans to hire nine new teachers, as well as implement a new math, language arts and social studies curriculum for $270,000.

Having additional teachers will allow class sizes to become smaller so teachers can better focus on student learning. The district purchased school modules to set outside a few of the elementary schools to increase available classroom space and make sure students are properly distanced.

Additionally, $83,000 will go toward setting up outdoor classrooms.

“Reduce class size and hire educators to decrease our teacher to student ratio where rising students display significant academic challenges based upon spring 2021 assessment data,” Hopkins said in the letter.

For social and emotional well-being, the district intends to spend $343,893 to hire a couple additional social workers. MSAD 11 is looking into purchasing a smartphone app called ‘Grace,’ specifically to help students with their mental health.

“If (students) feel like they are struggling and don’t know where to go and it’s midnight and they need to talk to someone and all those resources are available and they can get the help,” Hopkins said at the Aug. 5 school board meeting, noting it would cost the district around $4,000 a year.

Summer school and after school programming, mainly the Extended School Year program for special services students that takes place over the summer, will receive $79,988 and $65,000, respectively.

MSAD 11 will hire a lead nurse to help with contact tracing for $30,000 as well as instructional coaches for $585,000 and COVID-19 substitutes for $175,000 in preparation for any absentees caused by quarantining or sicknesses.

As for building improvements, $360,000 will go toward heat pumps at Helen A. Thompson Elementary School in West Gardiner that will improve the current system and also help with air flow, Hopkins said. Gardiner Area High School, Laura E. Richards Elementary School and River View Community School, all in Gardiner, will receive new windows to replace the current ones that do not open. It will cost $300,000.

For $85,000, Pittston-Randolph Consolidated School will get a new parking lot to make it easier for parents to pick up students. GAHS and Gardiner Regional Middle School can expect to see an improvement to their pick up sites, too, namely after the first week of school brought traffic unlike any administrator has previously seen. A bus repair and adjustments to the parent pick up and drop off sites will cost $121,791.

Unrelated to the American Rescue Plan, Business Manager Andrea Disch asked the committee if it would like to forgive the student debt accumulated before school breakfast and lunch became free to all.

Disch said with the money the district budgeted for nutrition, it can “easily forgive” the accumulated amount of $5,300 for the current K-5 students. Disch said approximately 170 students had outstanding balances.

Under federal law, the district has to give students in fifth grade and below free lunch, even if they cannot afford it. The amount does not grow for students in sixth grade and above, but upon graduation the amount can be an issue for some students. The finance committee unanimously voted to use already-budgeted money to cover it.

The next MSAD 11 school board business meeting will be on Oct. 7.


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