The Brewer School District is using a large portion of its American Rescue Plan funds toward updating Brewer High School's physical structure, replacing windows and its HVAC system. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Brewer High School is in line for a number of building upgrades, starting with the new HVAC system that’s going in now.

Nearby, RSU 22 might add onto Hampden Academy, an expansion that would bring new classrooms that provide more space for social distancing. 

And all around the Bangor region, school departments are planning a variety of initiatives to help students recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, both to catch up academically and deal with the emotional fallout from a chaotic year-plus.

The Brewer School District is using a large portion of its American Rescue Plan funds toward updating Brewer High School’s physical structure, replacing windows and its HVAC system. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

Maine school districts have tens of millions of dollars headed their way from the latest COVID-19 relief package passed by Congress in March. While many are still figuring out how they’ll spend the money, some have already set plans in motion.

The American Rescue Plan sends $411 million in education relief funds to Maine, with $370 million headed to local school districts. So far, the state has $274 million of that money in hand but hasn’t spent it yet, according to state and federal records. It still has money left over from the federal government’s first two COVID relief packages, but the American Rescue Plan pot is by far the largest.

In addition to replacing the high school’s HVAC system, Brewer plans to use some of its $2.7 million in expected aid to hire more social workers, particularly at the high school, and start a tutoring program, Superintendent Gregg Palmer said. 

Federal rules require districts to use at least 20 percent of their money to help students regain academic ground they may have lost since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, with few limitations on how districts can use the money to help students catch up. Schools can also use the money to cover the costs of responding to the pandemic.

The Brewer School District is using a large portion of its American Rescue Plan funds toward updating Brewer High School’s physical structure and replacing its HVAC system. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

Districts need to commit all of their funds by September 2024.

After that, Palmer said, Brewer would make the new social workers part of its regular budget.

In the Bucksport area, RSU 25 plans to use some of the $2.6 million it’s receiving to hire a family outreach social worker, so the school district can reconnect with families and make them aware of available support programs as they return to school this fall, Superintendent James Boothby said.

The district also plans to use the money for academic support efforts, including after-school programs and summer school, Boothby said. 

Bangor schools will receive almost $13 million from the American Rescue Plan, and the city’s school department started holding community meetings this week to collect input on what it should do with the money, Superintendent James Tager said. The department is also circulating a survey to gather community input. 

While Bangor hasn’t yet finalized any projects, Tager said the school department planned to set up a mentorship program to ease kids back into the classroom and provide them with adults who serve as role models and discuss challenges such as back-to-school difficulties. 

New windows in a classroom at Brewer High School. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

The school department aims to find 500 mentors, Tager said, a goal he said was “ambitious” but necessary. 

“We know the differences a significant adult can make” in students’ lives, he said. 

In Hermon, the school department’s hybrid schedule last year — in which students split their time between learning remotely and in person — led to some lags in subjects including math, said Superintendent Jim Chasse.

As a result, Chasse said, the town expects to use some of its $1 million in aid to hire additional staff and teachers to help students who have fallen behind, but “not in such a way where a student feels like, ‘Hey, you’re behind, hurry up,’” Chasse said. 

Hermon also wants to use some of its funds to cover the financial losses associated with the hybrid schedule. The school lunch program, for example, still had to make food even though only about half the normal number of students were in school each day.

“We didn’t decrease our employee levels,” he said. “We still had to make food.”

RSU 22 — which serves Hampden, Newburgh, Frankfort and Winterport — still hasn’t finalized plans for its $2.5 million award. The district is exploring ideas and holding meetings to gather input, Superintendent Regan Nickels said.

One possibility is an addition onto Hampden Academy that would add third-floor classrooms, she said. The district last month started soliciting bids for that addition.

Lia Russell

Lia Russell is a reporter on the city desk for the Bangor Daily News. Send tips to LRussell@bangordailynews.com.