County's school districts stand to gain $4.5 million in stimulus funds

Friday, April 24, 2009

CARROLL COUNTY -- Carroll County's three school districts are scheduled to receive more than $4.5 million in federal stimulus money between now and the end of 2011, according to the Arkansas Recovery Web site. The figures were posted Tuesday for each of the state's 293 school districts, which will receive more than $591 million in the first wave of funding.

The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) funds are to be used in three distinct areas of education:

* Under the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, for new construction, modernization, renovation or repair of public school facilities;

* Under Title 1, the federal education funding vehicle, for what it calls "essential education reform" in teacher effectiveness, data systems to track student career-goal progress; progress in college- and career-ready standards, and support and intervention for the lowest performing schools.

* Under the Individuals with Disabilities Act to improve access and education for student with disabilities.

Based on figures published Tuesday on the Web site, www.recovery.arkansas.gov., the Berryville School District will receive $2,299,654; Eureka Springs School District will receive $1,175,744; and the Green Forest School District will receive $1,086,287.

Sixty-seven percent of the funds will be distributed in the first round of grants, with a follow-up distribution in 2010. All monies are to be spent by the end of 2012.

In announcing the fund distribution, the Arkansas Department of Education warned administrators to avoid "funding cliffs," since the Recovery Act funds are expected to be a one-time infusion money in an effort to ward off staff reductions and elimination of services. A funding cliff would be a long-term program created with the ARRA funds that would then have to be sustained in the future with state and local monies.

As part of its application for stabilization funding, the state will be required to keep close watch over how each district uses the funds. In turn, each district's superintendent will be required to sign a Statement of Assurance to carry out the goals of ARRA.

Wayne Carr, superintendent of Eureka Springs Schools, didn't want to comment at this time on what his district would be receiving. Carr said he found the figures posted on the Web site to be "contradictory" and wanted to clarify some points before making a statement.

Jeff Williams, superintendent of Green Forest Schools, said he found the figures posted on the Web site to be "about right," according to his calculations, which he says shows the district receiving $1.2 million. The Title I money, he said, "looks like $110,072 each year (for two years), which is about exactly what I expected."

Williams said the stimulus package is confusing, having three separate funds that have three ways to be spent.

As for differences between the amounts each district will receive, Williams said it is based on Title 1 numbers, meaning the number of disadvantaged students in a district who receive free or reduced lunches.

"I don't know how they compute it," Williams said. "There is no rhyme or reason."

Despite the challenges, Williams said the money will be welcome. The district is preparing to construct a new middle school using state partnership funds.

A portion of the stimulus money will go toward "other extras," he said, items that were originally trimmed from the middle school project.

As an example, he said stimulus money can be used to make up the "matching" portion of a grant to provide security cameras.

Berryville's superintendent, Dr. Randy Byrd, said he was still waiting for clarification, believing there may have been "double counts" posted on the Web site.

Bryd said he believes Berryville may be getting around $1.37 million, but whatever the number, he has plans to maybe spend a portion on technology improvements, by beefing up the infrastructure with faster, better wiring services, and possibly going wireless district wide.

Stimulus money for construction will go toward high school and middle school renovations projects, he said, and a list of priorities is already in place with a work session planned to finalize details.

According to Doug Harris, with Berryville Schools, five percent will be available to each district immediately, and the remainder of this year's allotment will be distributed by vouchers "as we spend," he said, with voucher submissions allowed every two weeks.

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