The office of the county state’s attorney requested from the St. Mary’s commissioners permission to use over $100,000, originally dedicated to fund Project Graduation events, to purchase laptop computers for students attending St. Mary’s public schools.
In a June 1 letter to commissioners from the office, Richard Fritz (R), state’s attorney, said, “on May 11, the state’s attorney’s office regretfully announced the cancellation of the 2020 graduation events due to the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. Alternatively, in the next few weeks, my office will be mailing out ‘Project Graduation Packs’ to each Class of 2020 high school student.”
He continued, “With the remaining funds that were budgeted for the … events, the state’s attorney’s office, in conjunction with the commissioners of St. Mary’s County, would like to designate the use of those funds for 315 laptop computers dispersed by the St. Mary’s County public schools to its students.”
The state’s attorney’s office annually helps organize Project Graduation, events that take place following each county’s high school graduation that run through the night as a safe alternative to parties. The events are paid for through donations.
Jaymi Sterling, deputy state’s attorney, joined the meeting via teleconference to discuss the request with commissioners on Tuesday.
She mentioned this is the first time they canceled the 36-year-old program since 1984 and they are “very sad” about it, but they wanted to do something “positive” with the funds and came up with a “joint plan to provide 315 laptops.”
Sterling said by forgoing the event, the 2020 seniors are “in turn giving back to fellow students.”
Commissioner Eric Colvin (R) thanked the department for the funds.
“This is a great use of funds,” he said, and noted they could have sat on the funds for another year.
The commissioners unanimously agreed to use $100,170 from the miscellaneous revolving fund, originally designated for Project Graduation, to purchase 315 laptops for county public school students.
Grant money used for broadband, not laptops
Later in the meeting, the county commissioners moved to accept a $200,000 grant from the Governor’s Office of Rural Broadband to help improve broadband services in the county’s “middle mile,” and authorized the purchase of cable plant expansions funded from a CARES Act federal grant.
Bob Kelly, information technology director for the county, said the middle mile project began several years ago and within that time, they’ve identified 15 areas in the county that qualify; 13 of those areas will be addressed with the newly approved funding.
Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) at Tuesday’s meeting brought up funding for the broadband services. Although the county’s board of education requested CARES Act money for laptops, Morgan pointed out “commissioners have to consider the big picture,” and said employees Naval Air Station Patuxent River and others who are teleworking need connection at home.
He noted that the state’s attorney’s office was able to purchase laptops at $318 per computer, but when the board of education made its request, they say they needed $575 per computer.
“I believe we have to help these kids out, but at the same time the broadband here is for everybody’s purpose,” he said, adding he supports how CARES money is being spent.
In an email sent to commissioners and The Enterprise after the meeting, Scott Smith, superintendent of St. Mary’s public schools, clarified that in an April 29 presentation to the board of education, two models of computers were listed with specifications and costs. He said there would be a fluctuation in the cost of technology based on delivery date and availability, and said if CARES Act funds were made available, they would have to get a current price quote from their vendor, “as we did when the state’s attorney’s office contacted us.”
According to the April presentation, one computer model was recorded as costing $350, while the other model was recorded as costing $599.