After waiting, hoping and speculating for several weeks, area schools now know how much of the federal stimulus money will be coming to their school districts.
The Arkansas Department of Education and Gov. Mike Beebe's office posted to a public Web site April 21 the amounts of money each Arkansas school district can expect to receive in each of four categories of the stimulus funding.
The Cave City School District will receive $1,415,428; Highland School District, $2,735,052; and Twin Rivers/Williford, $747, 415.
Izard County Consolidated will receive $882,560 and Melbourne School District will get $879,189.
In Fulton County, the Mammoth Spring School District will receive $598,743; Salem, $963,550; and Viola $524,780.
School districts across Arkansas will receive $559.7 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds over the next two years.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is expected to generate $2.9 billion for Arkansas. The money will go to education, Medicaid and human services, housing and labor, transportation, energy and weatherization, water and the environment and safety and community.
Most of the money for elementary and secondary education will be disbursed through the Title I program which serves a large percentage of poor students. Other funds will be distributed through the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act program for students who have physical and mental disabilities, and through the new State Fiscal Stabilization Fund.
The stabilization fund money will be distributed through the Title I formula but is not restricted to Title I programs. It can also be used for construction and renovation.
A fourth, smaller category of funding for schools and educational cooperatives is for assisting preschool children who have disabilities.
Based on information from Washington and the governor's expectations on how this money should be invested, each school district will prepare a plan for using the money and submit it for review by the Arkansas Department of Education.
Charter schools in Arkansas also received stimulus funding. The Imboden Area Charter School will receive $94,432.
Districts will have access initially to 67 percent of the stimulus money and 50 percent of the Title I and special education funding.
By June 20, the state will disburse 5 percent advances in each of the three categories of funds to the districts. After that, the state will reimburse the districts for their expenses every two weeks, according to Arkansas Education Commissioner Ken James.
The U.S. Department of Education is expected to release the remaining funds later this year but will hinge that release on how the states and districts spend the first portions of their money.
With regard to the potential usage of the stimulus money, Cave City Superintendent Steve Green said, "We are going to spread as much of this money as possible throughout our schools. We are going to look at this as a blessing."
Green further explained the breakdown of this funding. He said that it is divided into three major allocations. The first and largest portion the State Fiscal Stability Fund (SFSF) which will total $848,815 dollars for the district will be used for things that fall under the realm of Perkins expenditures. These funds may be utilized for such things that are used in business classes, EAST, FCCLA and FFA. Some of the ideas for spending these funds might include such things as additional shop equipment, sewing machines, new computer equipment, and software.
Green said that the money can also be used for new construction "as long as it is linked to the academic future." This can also include things that lower the cost of utilities and things that make the school more "green" such as seamless roof panels and upgrades in heating and air that make it more efficient.
Green wanted the public to be aware that although the funding is approved and dollar amounts have been designated, the school must file ACIP paperwork with the state to both inform them of the ways in which the funds will be spent as well as for reimbursement purposes.
The first meetings were held in North Little Rock last Friday and Green only received the actual amounts on April 21. He wants to involve everyone from the school board to principals and teachers in the decision making process. Their ideas will be welcomed and at the May board meeting, he will discuss this with the members and invite their ideas. Green feels that they are "the ones who know what they need most."
The first portion of the money will be received during the summer. This portion will be 60 percent of the SFSF funds.
The second portion will be $247,837 and will be allocated for the Title I Part A increase and is based on the poverty index in the area. These funds can be used for such things as professional development and such things as tutors, smart boards and upgrading science labs in all schools. The funding will also help provide classroom aides, not including Special Education aids, these are covered under the third section of the funding package. This money could also allow the school to purchase the very expensive T-I 84 graphing calculators that can be used in math programs and for the ACT testing. Also, the funds can be used for a summer tutoring program for students who need extra help to earn a credit or those in potential danger of remediation due to low Benchmark scores.
The final portion of the stimulus funding is aimed at providing assistance in the Special Education program. This funding may provide a small equipped bus for students with disabilities. In addition, this money could provide for improvements to Cave City school's life skills center. This center is used to help developmentally and physically challenged students learn vital life skills such as cooking and laundry, Green said "This funding can add equipment to help our special needs children."
Superintendent Green also wanted to stress that this money could not be used for things such as athletics or parking lots. It must be spent by December, 2011.
He said because this funding will end, it cannot be used for salaries unless it might be for a person who will retire or only work until the end of the funding.
Highland Superintendent Ronnie Brogdon was out of town and unavailable for comment. Donna Shaw, vice president of the Highland School Board said Brogdon has met with people at the Arkansas Department of Education to get the details concerning the stimulus money the district will receive. She said the school district has a big wish list but have not discussed anything specifically or prioritized their needs. She said the subject will be discussed at the regular school board meeting scheduled for May 12 at 7 p.m. at the administration building.
According to Salem Superintendent Ken Rich the school board has discussed some plans for the stimulus money they are receiving. "We do have some tentative plans at this time," he said.
Rich said they are planning some building renovations and if the state approves a couple of projects they have already applied for they may use the money for the difference. He said they are also looking into spending some of it for technological equipment as well as some educational equipment in the classrooms, both written and electronic. The handicapped bus the school currently has is very old, according to Rich, and they are also looking at purchasing a new one with the stimulus money.
There is a list of other things that are possibilities for the money, but at this time there has been no approved plans. "We are waiting for the state to inform us on the process of getting the money," Rich said. "The driving force here at Salem is spending the money on something to help the students."
Rich said this is a lot of money to make plans for and it all has to be used by December of 2010. "The way I understood it is that our state gets two-thirds of their money to disburse up front and if they don't spend it appropriately they don't get the remaining one-third," Rich said. "We are supposed to receive some training on how to document this money."
"We have not made any definite plans for this money yet," Viola Superintendent John May said. "We are looking into the possibility of using it on some of the construction of the new high school."
May said he is not sure at this point if it can be used on the construction of the high school since the project is already started and contracts have been signed.
May said his understanding is that no one will receive any money until May 15.
"We are doing a needs assesment district wide with the staff and everyone," Melbourne Superintendent Gerald Cooper said about the way the Melbourne School District will spend their portion of the stimulus money. "It (the assesment) will take about a month and we'll have the assesment finished."
Cooper said he is keeping an open mind going into this and is confident many needed improvements will be made.
Consolidated School District
Izard County Consolidated I.C.C Superintendent Fred Walker said the school board discussed some ideas as far as their portion of the stimulus package goes but nothing is set in stone as of yet.
According to Walker, the district would like to install new energy efficient windows in the K-3 building as well as reroof the elementary physical education facility. At the high school the board would like to upgrade the two science labs with new equipment and put a science lab in the middle school. Walker said they would also like to make an addition to their animal science program.
"Our special needs bus is not too old but it covers a lot of area every day and has a lot of miles on it so we would like to look into purchasing a new one," Walker said.
Walker said he is still uncertain as to when the first five percent will be distributed to the schools but they are setting up a meeting with an individual who is helping the government with the program to ask questions.
According to Mammoth Spring Superintendent Ronald Taylor, the school will receive another $10,691 under IDEA Title 6B because of its pre-school program.
Mammoth Spring will receive $376,697 from the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, $116,235 for Title 1 programs and $105,811 for IDEA Title 6B programs in K-12. Taylor said the total amount of stimulus money the school is expected to receive is $609,434.
Taylor said the school board will meet May 11 at 7 p.m. to discuss project ideas for the stimulus money. "I've been kicking around the idea of a new roof on the elementary building," he said. Other ideas that he and the board have discussed are ACT summer classes, construction projects and new math and science materials for the high school.
Taylor said the federal guidelines on how to spend the money are 55 pages long, and he said he has been reading through them to find out how the school can spend the money. He said a deadline of June 30, 2011, has been placed on the schools as a time when all the money must be spent and accounted for.
"It (the stimulus money) is going to be a big benefit to the school," Taylor said.