Districts receive over $2M in funds

Published 6:00 am Monday, March 2, 2009

Local school district officials are awaiting guidance fromhigher authorities on how best to spend more than $2 million inadditional federal funds expected to be doled out by the AmericanRecovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The federal stimulus package, passed last week, containsadditional funding for a pair of federal school programs – Title Iand IDEA Part B. Title I funds are allotted to districts based onthe number of students living on or below the poverty level, whileIDEA Part B funds are used for special education.

The Brookhaven School District is expected to receive $785,000in Title I funds and $740,000 in IDEA funds, for a total of $1.52million. Likewise, the Lincoln County School District shouldreceive $382,000 in Title I funds and $582,000 in IDEA Part B fundsfor a total of $964,000.

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But school administrators aren’t exactly jumping for joy andtyping up wish lists. They have questions about spendingrestrictions that are attached to the federal programs. BrookhavenSchool District Superintendent Lea Barrett said federal funds couldnot be spent to supplant other services – meaning funding gaps leftby state cuts could not be plugged with the forthcoming funds.

“Title I is kind of a double-edged sword,” she said. “That moneycan be spent for anything that is not supplanting. If the staterequires it to be done, you can’t spend Title I funds on it.”

Barrett said the new money could be used to hire new teachers,but when stimulus funds run out – which they are expected to do intwo years – those teachers would likely have to be released or paidfor with state funding, and there is little room in districtsbudgets for job creation.

Barrett and other school officials are hoping the federalstipulations will be relaxed to allow flexibility in using stimulusmoney, but in the absence of that guarantee, most are contemplatingusing the money for additional supplies, technology andprofessional development.

Still, doubling up on Title I and IDEA Part B purchases may notbring district-wide benefits. Lincoln County School DistrictAssistant Superintendent Letha Presley said Title I programs breakdown into two categories – targeted assistance and school-wide. Thecounty district’s Title I programs are target assistance, with apair of Title I teachers at Enterprise Attendance Center.Therefore, the forthcoming stimulus funds would not benefit entireschools, but only the students in Title I classes.

Title I’s professional development funds, however, could be usedto develop teaching skills for teachers across the district,Presley said.

“Basically, we would just look at the schools and see what theneeds are,” she said. “We’re going to spend ours to benefit ourkids.”