Four Maine school programs selected to share nearly $1 million in grants will have to forfeit the money and reapply for funding in early July because of a flaw in the original request for proposals issued by the Maine Department of Education.

The grants – awarded to programs in Portland, Biddeford, Auburn and Fryeburg – were withdrawn earlier this month after an organization that was denied a grant appealed the decision.

The appeal brought to light a mistake in the wording of the request for proposals, or RFP, which should have said extra points would be given to schools that receive Title I funds to serve disadvantaged students and which need to improve under No Child Left Behind.

The “flaw” in the RFP occurred as a result of staff turnover in the program, said David Connerty-Marin, a spokesman for the Department of Education. The staff member who drafted the RFP left the department shortly before it was issued and the fact that the grant was intended to target Title I Continuous Improvement Priority Schools never made it into the request, he said.

When the RFP is re-issued in early July, it will include an additional $1 million in federal funds available for school enrichment programs. The exact wording has not yet been determined.

Existing programs funded by the 21st Century Community Learning Center Program grants, as they are known, will not lose money.

LearningWorks, which sought funding for the programs in Portland and Biddeford, had not yet hired teachers for the new and expanded offerings and will reapply for funding when the new RFP is issued, according to organization officials.

In late April the department awarded $972,800 of $1 million in available grant money to four schools to create academic enrichment programs. LearningWorks planned to use $240,000 to expand an existing after-school program in Portland and nearly $283,000 to create new summer-school and after-school programs in Biddeford. The LearningWorks programs could have received $2.2 million in grants over the next five years.

The department also awarded $150,000 to SAD 72 in Fryeburg and $300,000 to Auburn schools.

The four recipients were notified May 18 that the grants would not be awarded because of lack of clarity in the original RFP, Connerty-Marin said.

The department made the decision to withdraw the grants after consulting with the State Purchases Review Committee and the Attorney General’s Office.

The decision came after an appeal was filed by the Topsham-based Riverview Foundation, which applied for a grant in partnership with local schools. The appeal was filed May 4, two weeks before the Department of Education notified recipients the grants were on hold.

Connerty-Marin said the department is not required to inform applicants that an appeal has been filed. The State Purchases Review Committee concluded that the flaws in the language of the RFP required invalidation regardless of the merits of Riverview’s appeal, so a public hearing was not held.

LearningWorks CEO Ethan Strimling is upset with the state’s response to the situation and would like the department to reconsider. Programs for about 140 Biddeford elementary students will no longer be created and the Portland program will not expand to include 120 new students.

“It’s very sad,” Strimling said.

State Sens. Nancy Sullivan, D-Biddeford, and Lois Snowe-Mello, R-Poland, last week sent a letter to Commissioner of Education Stephen Bowen urging him to reconsider the decision.

 

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: [email protected]

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