The St. Mary’s school board wanted to purchase 5,000 computers with the $5.4 million it requested from the county’s $19.8 million COVID-19 relief funds. But the county commissioners gave them less than $59,000.
Tuesday’s commissioners meeting included conversations on a spending plan for the CARES Act coronavirus relief funds. The county health officer, county administrator, chief financial officer and other departments and agencies worked collaboratively on the plan, covering partial payroll expenses, compliance measures, economic support and expenses necessary for government functions, according to meeting documents.
Rebecca Bridgett, county administrator, told commissioners there were three noteworthy items in the plan, including $2 million for the department of economic development to establish small business assistance for county businesses; about $3 million for the information technology department for cable extension to a portion of the county’s “middle mile” residents, hit hardest by their remote location, complicating distance learning and teleworking capabilities; and $58,863 for St. Mary’s County public schools health related costs.
It’s unclear where the remainder of the emergency funding will be spent.
When asked about the board of education designation, Commissioner President Randy Guy (R) said this week, they “already received over $3 million” from the state through the education stabilization fund. He said the county is only able to use half of the $20 million allocated to St. Marys, while the health department is in charge of the other half.
Superintendent Scott Smith summarized the amount of money each department is receiving at Wednesday’s school board meeting.
“The challenge is I think we’re going to see is that all of these, they are not being funded upfront. The county must spend all of this money and apply it for a reimbursement,” he said, adding that is why they requested the $5.4 million for computers. “Because we know we can go out and purchase them and then have them eligible for a reimbursable cost.”
Smith said he looks forward to seeing how the county will spend nearly $20 million between now and December, the deadline for the relief fund spending, “as they excluded the $5 million that we requested.”
Cathy Allen, vice chair of the school board, said she was disappointed to hear the amount of money the school system was given. She commended Tammy McCourt, the school system’s assistant superintendent of finances and human resources, for giving detailed financial reports to the county when making the request.
“Juxtapose that with what I saw in the county’s Board Docs yesterday, most of their lines were to be determined, to be determined, to be determined,” she said.
Allen acknowledged they would be able to purchase some laptops through the education stabilization fund, “but it will not purchase the number of computers we’re going to need.” The school system had a plan to give every student a laptop. Allen added she hopes the county government will eventually help the schools purchase more computers.
Regarding $3 million of funding for expansion of broadband services in the county, Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) claimed he was excited to “have the opportunity to get the project started,” as it will help provide internet access to kids who are learning from home and residents who are teleworking.
Commissioner Mike Hewitt (R) said “connectivity for people” is important, since “it’s one thing to have a computer” and another to be able to connect to the internet. “Kids need quality internet.”
Morgan said the $58,000 granted to the board of education is for “anything related to COVID-19 sanitary issues,” such as personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer. Although the board wanted to request $5 million to help pay for laptops for students, that “isn’t part of what we’re allowed to apply for,” he said.
During last week’s school board meeting, McCourt said guidance from the U.S. Department of the Treasury states the relief funds could be used “to facilitate distance learning, including technological improvements, in connection with school closings to enable compliance with COVID-19 precautions.”
McCourt said this week the school system received $2.5 million, not $3 million, from the state through the education stabilization fund, another component of the CARES Act. Of that amount, the school system is responsible for setting aside $263,127 of “equitable services” for 11 non-public schools in the county. McCourt said the funds have to be spent by September 2022, but they plan to purchase laptops immediately.
The school system applied and received $47,850 through another CARES Act related grant that will support the Head Start program. McCourt said it would go toward purchasing iPads for students and staff to maintain or resume the program’s operations.
Twitter: @KristenEntNews @MadisonEntNews