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Posted: 05/20/09

Schools await criteria
for stimulus package funds

Observer Staff Writer
      School districts are still waiting to see what will happen with money promised by the federal stimulus package.
       The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed in February by President Barack Obama, is a $787 billion project to "jump-start" the economy by saving jobs and creating opportunities for low-income families.
       Part of that investment will be toward education. The Department of Education states that each district will have two years to figure out ways of using the money in innovative ways, whether it's saving jobs or improving student achievement for long-term impact.
       Macomb County is estimated to receive about $14 million for at-risk students while $29 million will be for special education. Stabilization money is also heading its way, but its uses haven't been completely defined.
       Unfortunately, the criteria and possible strings attached to using stimulus funds have yet to be fully determined, causing a state of stasis for districts like Romeo Community Schools.
       "The guidelines are all up in the air, we're still waiting," said Executive Director of Business Affairs Cynthia Schwark. "It will take a while to get all the information we need."
       Schwark said the applications for the funding are going to be released shortly, possibly as soon as this week for some grants. When they are released, the district will apply.
       Schwark said the stimulus money will be split into different areas. The first will go toward the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) program, which will flow through the Intermediate School District. This will be used for programs such as special education.
       The second category is Title I, which comes directly to the district. This money is earmarked for creating or improving at-risk student programs. It can also be used for identifying and training highly effective teachers and on-line course software, according to documents from the Michigan Schools Business Office.
       A third category is the Title II-D, meant for technology education. Schwark said the federal government wants this to be innovative, capital outlay uses for technology as opposed to staff. She said the application for this may not be out until September.
       Another chunk of the stimulus money will go to the state as stabilization funding, which will be used to back-fill any holes from revenue loss. For school districts, this means the money would be used to stop any prorations.
       In Romeo's case, it would be used to negate the loss of $59 per student in the school state aid revenue fund.
       "We will likely have to account for that money as a separate line item, but we're not sure just yet," Schwark said. "This won't be an end-all to save the budget."
       The estimated total of federal funds to Romeo is $1.3 million in 2009, with a total increase of funding estimated at $2.7 million over the next two years, but this is only a soft number, said Schwark.
       At the May 4 meeting of the Board of Education, Vice-president Michael Stobak indicated he had spoken with Governor Jennifer Granholm about stimulus funds. He said he was told criteria still needs to be determined for the funds.
       "I would be concerned, other than the stabilization fund, of including them in a future budget," he said.
       Questions submitted to the Economic Recovery Office in Lansing were not returned by print deadline.

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