PARIS — Superintendent Rick Colpitts said he believes eligibility rules based on population to obtain certain federal grants based are “unfair” to a school district like SAD 17 and he hopes to address the situation with Maine’s Congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., this week.
Colpitts is in the nation’s capital from Monday, Nov. 14, through the Saturday, Nov. 19, representing Maine as Superintendent of the Year during the annual American Association of School Administrators Superintendent of the Year Conference.
The district was recently informed it was awarded a $70,000 Rural School grant through the U.S. Department of Education. The Board of Directors unanimously voted at its Oct. 17 meeting, on the recommendation of the Personnel Committee, to use the funds for an additional fifth-grade teaching position at Paris Elementary School.
The action was taken to reduce class size, an issue that Colpitts said was considered the district’s greatest need to address under the terms of the grant application.
Shortly after taking that vote, school officials were told, in what Finance Committee Chairman Barry Patrie described as a “Dear John letter,” that a mistake had been made. The district was not eligible for the money.
Colpitts said the district had never previously been eligible for the funding.
“The district has never qualified for the Rural Education grant in the past because the population of our eight towns exceeds the 20,000 population cap,” Colpitts said.
“We had expressed displeasure about this over the last two years. Augusta qualifies because it has a population of less than 20,000. It does not make sense to me that our capital qualifies but that eight towns in rural western Maine don’t simply because the combined population of our regional school district exceeds this.”
Colpitts said the school district was told it was eligible and encouraged to apply for the funds this year by state and federal education officials who they had been working with for the past two years about the issue.
“We complied. However, when the state reviewed the population count for our region they acknowledged that they made a mistake in making the award,” Colpitts said.
Colpitts said the decision to apply for funding to reduce class size at Paris Elementary School made sense.
“Using grant funds instead of local funds to meet this need made sense. Now that the state recanted the award we will need to address the overcrowding with local contingency funds,” he said.
On Nov. 7, the board of directors voted to take the $70,000 out of the school district’s Contingency Fund until they can find the money in the operating budget.
It is unclear how much the loss of the eligibility could have affected the school district’s budget in the future, but Colpitts said he will continue to address the issue with legislators.
“I will be in D.C. next week as part of the Superintendent of the Year award and plan to speak with our congressional members about the unfair regulation connected with this award,” he told the Advertiser Democrat shortly before leaving for the event.
Colpitts and other education leaders from across the country are expected to discuss issues at the conference such as the Every Student Succeeds Act, signed by President Barack Obama on Dec. 10, 2015. It essentially returns decision-making for education back to local educators, parents and communities.
Colpitts was named Superintendent of the Year by the Maine School Superintendents Association (MSSA) in November 2015. Colpitts was selected by a committee of his peers, including former Superintendent of the Year recipients, MSSA officers and others.