Schools to track stimulus fund help

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A long and uncertain budgeting process for school districts isbeing extended again this week after superintendents and districtmanagers learned Friday they would have to create separate accountsto track federal stimulus money supplementing their budgets.

Lincoln County School District officials will have to keep aclose eye on approximately $1.1 million from the AmericanReinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 used to fund a portion of thedistrict’s Mississippi Adequate Education Program appropriation,while bookkeepers in the Brookhaven School District will have totrack around $900,000. Expenditures from the accounts will have tobe reported to the federal government every two months inaccordance with Mississippi’s selection by Congress as one of 16states chosen to track stimulus spending.

Brookhaven School District Superintendent Lea Barrett saideducators at first thought state offices would be tasked withtracking the money, but were instructed to create their accountslast Friday at a budget meeting for district managers.

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She said the requirement will create an extra burden on thedistrict’s number crunchers, but tight accounting practices forstimulus money will be a priority. If the money is misspent, shesaid, the federal government might one day want it back.

“When all this is said and done and they audit, they will likelywant a narrative explaining where and why it was spent,” Barrettsaid. “I’m delighted we have the money, but it does call for somemore work.”

Lincoln County School District Business Manager Cheryl Shelbysaid school districts have been recommended to spend the money oninstructional costs.

Both school districts are leaning toward using their stimulusaccounts for teacher salaries, though neither has made a finaldecision.

“They want you to spend it on instruction, and our biggestinstructional expense is teacher salaries,” Shelby said.

Despite the stimulus money’s creation of new accountingrequirements for school districts, the federal cash did not fixsome of the problems district administrators were hoping it would.The districts’ budgets will remain at $27.7 million for Brookhavenand $25.5 million for Lincoln County.

Shelby said a $442,000 cut the district received for fiscal year2009 was not restored.

“I think a lot of the districts were hoping some of the stimulusmoney would be used to refund that, but that did not happen,” shesaid. “This is not new money. This is strictly part of the same oldmoney they’ve given us, they’ve just gotten it from somewhere elseand there’s strings attached.”

Barrett said the city district managed to pick up an extra$60,000 when its budget was redone after the completion of thestate budget two weeks ago, but that amount would not have a greateffect. It did, however, signal to district officials that it issafe to fill some unfilled teacher positions, and Barrett saidaround 10 new teachers were added.

But the city district is still holding on three teacherpositions paid for with local dollars, Barrett said.

“They are still forecasting a very, very tight year next yearand the year after,” she said.