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Rockland area school district unveils plan to spend millions in fed aid

Modular classrooms would allow for social distancing
By Stephen Betts | Apr 16, 2021
Photo by: Stephen Betts The Regional School Unit 13 Board met April 15.

Rockland — The Rockland area school board was presented Thursday evening with the administration's proposal on how to spend $8.6 million in federal aid.

The single largest projects were to erect modular classrooms at Oceanside High School in Rockland and Oceanside Middle School in Thomaston to allow for physical distancing even when the entire study body is in attendance at the same time on campuses.

Regional School Unit 13 Superintendent John McDonald, Assistant Superintendent Steffany Tribou, and Business Manager Peter Orne presented their plan April 15 to spend the $8.6 million in federal aid that has arrived in the form of three different COVID-19 relief packages.

The money is required to be spent on ways to address problems created by the pandemic and all the money must be spent by September 2024 with some of it needed to be spent prior to that.

The superintendent said creating more space at the high school and middle school will allow for students and staff to comply with the physical distance requirements when all students return in September for in-person schooling.

This year, RSU 13 has used a hybrid schedule with half the students going in-person for two days a week and the other half going in-person two different days.

The superintendent said these one-time expenses can offer long-term benefits to the district.

The administration plan calls for the district erecting two modular buildings at the high school grounds that would each contain six classrooms. He said the tentative plan is for one of those units to be located in the area of the former skate park and the other on a currently grassy spot.

The district would also employ an additional 9.5 teaching positions to meet the need of maintaining smaller class sizes at the high school. Those teachers would be offered one-year contracts.

The total cost of those additions would be $2.2 million.

At Oceanside Middle School, one eight-unit modular classroom would be erected as well as renovations to the recently expanded school. Three additional teaching positions would be added, also for one year contracts,

That cost is estimated at $1.7 million.

The superintendent said these modular units should not be confused with the trailers that schools would use as temporary classrooms. He said the units would consist of classrooms of 800 square feet each.

The smaller class sizes would also benefit students who need more individual teacher time, McDonald said. The district is bracing for the need to help academic performances, resulting from the lack of in-person schooling during 2020-2021.

Board member Gerald Weinand, an architect, said it would be difficult to find a contractor to perform the work so the modular units were ready by September. Board member Doug Curtis also expressed doubt that the work could be done by September.

Other big-ticket items include two additional teachers at the Ash Point Community School and more staff in special education.

The superintendent said when the classrooms are no longer needed for social distancing, they can be used to house programs that are at the McLain School and South School.

These plans would allow the school district to move out of the McLain School and turn over the property to the city of Rockland. The City Council has eyed the McLain School as an opportunity to create housing units by private developers.

The superintendent acknowledged that funding for the teaching positions would be temporary, but with teachers retiring each year, many of the new hires would have the opportunity to stay with the district.

The board expects to vote on the recommendations at the May 6 meeting.

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Comments (6)
Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Apr 17, 2021 09:51

I'm right there with you Doug.  McClain is after all a "school building".  It seems to me the district could free up a lot of useful classroom space at McClain school by unburdening taxpayers with all these administrators, their staff and offices. If you feel the need to keep them (for whatever reason) then put them in the cheap trailer building Uncle Joe is giving. McClain school would provide a great "intown" location to house students. Re: attending meetings you and I both know the board does as they wish despite whatever anyone in town thinks, that should be crystal clear by now.



Posted by: Doug Curtis Jr. | Apr 16, 2021 21:52

Well I won't go into as deep as Gerald did. Let me just say when was the last time the State or Federal government gave Rockland any money to actually pay for any school building we have built? If you said never I think you may be right.  I can't ever remember a time in my lifetime.  We should spend the money wisely and this is not a done deal yet.  I am not giving it back.  The situation is definitely fluid and as far as I am concerned I see no rush to leave the McLain building regardless of what some city councilors want past or present . I would only consider it if it was in the best interest of the taxpayers.  This plan MIGHT present one of those possible situations. We are still looking at options for spending the money and this is one idea that has some merit but it could change.  We can not use the money to directly reduce taxes.  I wish we could.  I learned about this for the first time last night.  I agree with Gerald.  Speak up and ask questions.

 



Posted by: Gerald A Weinand | Apr 16, 2021 21:28

A couple of points of clarification:

First, the RSU does not receive any direct payments from the federal government. Covid relief funding (known as ESSER) is provided to each state as a block grant. The Maine Department of Education is responsible for distribution of these federal block grants.

Second, all ESSER funding must ONLY be used to address issues resulting from the Covid pandemic. The funding can not be used for payroll of existing employees. It can not be used to cover health insurance premiums, or other existing coverage. It can not be used to retire any bonds or debt. It can not be used to purchase items that would normally be procured, like cafeteria food, or fuel, or supplies, etc. The RSU submits proposed ESSER expenditures to the Maine DoEd for approval, and is then reimbursed.

Third, ESSER funds must be spent by a date certain, or they are lost. It is literally a use it or lose it situation. It is in the RSU's (and hence the local taxpayers') best interest that ALL of the federal funds are spent. The RSU is trying, whenever possible, to leverage the ESSER funds on projects that will have a long-term impact. For example, as noted in the article, ESSER funds are proposed to be used to purchase and site modular units to meet mandated social distancing in order to have all high and middle school students in school five days a week. Yet, as more and more people are vaccinated, at some point the mandated social distancing of students will no longer be required. These modular units can then be repurposed, again as noted above.

Fourth, as the article makes clear, most of the new hires will be temporary, on one year contracts - 12.5 teaching positions alone. It's important to keep in mind that every other district in the area, state- and nationwide is also looking to add temporary staff. Before the pandemic, it was difficult to hire a bus driver or find substitute teachers or drivers. The RSU has had to leave the Spanish language teacher position unfilled at the Middle School for lack of applicants. Not many qualified teachers will find the offer of a one year contract enticing, except perhaps for retired educators. Thus it is important for younger applicants to know that they will have an opportunity to stay with the RSU should there be openings in the Fall of 2022.

Residents of the five towns of RSU13 will have a chance to have their voices heard at a public hearing on 20 May. Also, at the beginning of every RSU Board Meeting there is a time for public comment, and residents are encouraged to do so. Info on how to submit a comment to the Board as well as contact info for all Board members can be found here: http://www.rsu13.org/board

Gerald Weinand
Member, RSU13 Board of Directors (Rockland)



Posted by: Crawford L Robinson | Apr 16, 2021 10:09

This district has no problem finding ways to spend money. They have had lots of practice. Of course once the pandemic issue goes away .... the spending won't... and guess who will keep paying?



Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Apr 16, 2021 08:39

Valerie of course it would b great if the school board even understood the meaning of "better use".  No this is more like handing kids a pillow case full of halloween candy and telling them they must eat it all.  I have numerous concerns over the use of this free money.  Constructing a "permanent" building to solve a "temporary" problem is one and hiring "permanent" teaching positions and hoping retirements will balance out the hires is quite optimistic.  What if the retirees become double dippers ?  Wouldn't it be better to find ways to pay off district's expenses with Uncle Joe's money ?  In any case Valerie you and I both know this board is unwilling and unable to find "a better way" to spend these funds.



Posted by: Valerie Wass | Apr 16, 2021 06:44

Seems like this grant can be spent for better use.



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