plans to put stimulus funding to good use By David Lias
Plain Talk It appears that federal stimulus funding totaling $300,000 will be put to good use in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years by the Vermillion School Board and administration. "There's been a great deal of media attention concerning the stimulus plan for economic recovery," Superintendent Mark Froke said at Monday's school board meeting. The formal source of the funds comes from the American Recovery and Revitalization Act passed by Congress and signed by President Obama earlier this year. The total allocation of funding available to Vermillion for special education purposes is approximately $318,000. Of that amount, approximately $18,000 will be allocated to private and parochial schools, leaving $300,000 for the Vermillion School District. Stimulus funding totaling nearly $206,000 for Title I also is available for Vermillion to apply for. Of that amount, nearly $11,000 will be allocated for private and parochial schools, leaving $195,000 for the public school district's Title 1 needs. Froke said that shortly after school administrators were made aware of the funding, he and Marianne Upward, director of special services, met several times to develop a plan on how the funds could best be used by the district. The framework for allocating the stimulus dollars was reviewed by the district's leadership team, finance committee and school board. "I think now we're at a point where we have a very solid plan," Froke told school board members, "to submit as far as our application process goes. Obviously, the stimulus funds are trickling down to the local level, and we need to submit an application and we receive these funds on a reimbursement basis." Froke said the school district has received a strong message from federal officials. "The message that we've had is 'spend the money.' They want to get the money out there working in the economy just as soon as they can, and at the same time, do things to improve education," he said. At first glance, Froke said, some people may believe school districts are receiving a great windfall in federal funding. "There's going to be a benefit for a year or two," he said, "but then the funding is done so we have to be prepared for that. The program that we're looking at now will last no longer than two years, so everyone has to be aware that after two years, these programs come to an end." The funding also can't be used to supplant existing programs in the district. "In other words," Froke said, "we have to go beyond what we're doing now to use these funds. It isn't like replacing funding for existing programs; we have to spend beyond what we're spending now with our stimulus money. Tentatively, the district plans to use $100,000 of the special education funding in the 2009-10 school year to hire an additional kindergarten teacher, an additional fourth grade teacher and an additional half-time alternative teacher. The district used to receive funding from the Department of Labor for the alternative teacher, but that money is no longer available. The stimulus dollars will allow the district to keep that position at least through 2009-10. The district also plans to allocate $50,000 for debt reduction in 2009-10, for total spending of $150,000 that year. "You can put stimulus money toward deficit reduction in the special ed area," Froke said. "But when you do that, they say they want us to identify the program that we're planning to cover. We picked therapy services – occupational therapy and physical therapy – that we'll use these funds to cover for the upcoming year." The remaining $150,000 will be spent in two equal allotments of $75,000 in 2009-10, and 2010-11. During each of those two years, the funds will be used to expand Birth to 3 personnel by one-quarter full time equivalent. This will allow the district to expand its current three-quarter Birth to 3 educator to full-time. The funds will also be used for a 60 percent full time equivalent special education reading teacher for elementary. The funds will also allow the district to hire a full-time autism educational assistant those two school years to meet the needs of a child who will be moving into the district. The remaining funds will be allocated towards programs and curriculum and professional development. The district also tentatively plans to spend $97,500 for those two school years for Title I programs. Projects include a half-time high school math teacher, a reading specialist, a summer ninth grade teacher, summer reading recovery and programs and curriculum. "What we want to do is present a very strong plan – something that everyone could say is a wise use of the money," Froke said. "We want to be very transparent in what we're doing with this money. "We want the use of the funds to be student-focused," he said. "We want to use the funds to increase student achievement, we want to address the district goals and we want to be efficient in developing our plan. In other words, we don't want to develop a plan that has a lot of different elements to it. We want to stay focused and concise, and we want this plan to be strong." He noted that because the stimulus money is designed to be "one-time funding," the district will need to either figure out a way to fund these programs on its own after the money has been spent, or scale back on programs. "That's the reality of this situation," Froke said. Vermillion School District officials sent a copy of the plans for the stimulus funds to a state education official. "Before we submitted our application, we wanted to know where we were at with this, and she said our plan looked good," Froke said, "so I was happy about that."
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