ELLSWORTH — In some ways, March of 2020 feels like eons ago now that people are out on the streets and in restaurants, many are going maskless and a vaccine against COVID-19 is available to people 12 years of age and above. But mid-March last year was the beginning of COVID restrictions, and when the state began its pandemic shift to remote schooling, to remain at least partly in place for many districts throughout the 2020-21 school year.
To help districts with the pandemic pivot, federal funds poured in. For the Ellsworth School Department, that meant $3.1 million came in in about one year’s time, but with strict guidelines on how the funds could be spent and a deadline for spending them.
For administrators tasked with following the guidelines while ensuring the schools, students and staff received not just personal protective equipment but tools to keep teaching and learning, it could feel like a mad spending spree to make sure that the funds were used in time and used wisely.
“Some [grants] have expired and we spent them down as much as we could,” said Curriculum Coordinator Rachel Kohrman-Ramos, who led much of the grant application and expenditure processes. “Some went down exactly to zero, some went almost to zero.”
In order to qualify under the grant, all items had to arrive before its expiration date, Kohrman-Ramos said. So, a last-minute notification of a shipping delay meant canceling the order if it would no longer arrive by the grant deadline.
“There were strict rules of paying invoices,” Kohrman-Ramos noted.
For one delivery, Kohrman-Ramos found out about a shipping delay the day the item was supposed to arrive, which was one day before the grant expired, leaving unspent funds on the table.
“That was devastating,” she said.
Two more funding packages totaling $2,882,592 have been awarded for 2021-22, but the department has yet to determine how to spend them. Kohrman-Ramos is currently working on the applications to receive the funds.