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Maine Schools To Get Another $164 Million In Pandemic Aid

Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press
Gov. Janet Mills announces Maine's first coronavirus case during a news conference at the State House, Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Augusta, Maine.

The Mills administration is providing local schools with an additional $164 million to help them implement new health and safety procedures during the pandemic.That money comes on top of $165 million in federal funds that the state sent to schools in July, which has been earmarked for needs such as additional technology and improved ventilation systems.

Maine Education Association President Grace Leavitt says she hopes the additional money will be used to hire extra staff to assist teachers, many of whom, she says, feel exhausted from trying to balance in-person and remote classes.

"Hopefully some of these funds will help, with a few more hands on deck," Leavitt says. "That's been the phrase since June, July - all hands on deck. And we just need more hands."

Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin says the initial funds provided in July helped to pay for building and technology improvements. She says now that school has started, the new funds can help cover continuing needs, such as hiring more staff and substitutes.

"We're expecting around a 20% reduction - or staff shortage - in general across the state," Makin says. "And that mirrors what they're expecting across the nation. So there are funds to help cover those unanticipated and emergency-related pieces."

Tina Meserve is the superintendent of RSU 9 in Farmington. She hopes to use the money to improve the school's ventilation system, which she says will be particularly important over the next few months, as cold weather keeps students inside.

"We certainly want to look at seeing what can we do to make sure they're at their best for dealing with pandemics," Meserve says, "and making sure kids are safe, and staff are safe, when they're in school."

The funds must be spent by Dec. 30. State officials say they'd like additional flexibility, or more federal funding, to continue to help schools going forward.

While most schools in Maine have opened for in-person classes, several have already had to shut their doors after detecting COVID-19 cases within school buildings.