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833 reviews how to spend federal stimulus money

Recommendations on how to spend $3 million in federal money for education jobs over two years sparked an exchange between two District 833 School Board members, at the Oct. 15 workshop meeting, about financing philosophies.

Superintendent Mark Porter is recommending the district spend $900,000 during this school year, leaving $1.8 million for the 2011-2012 school year.

The Minnesota Department of Education will approve only 90 percent of the district's allocation, Porter said. There is some flexibility in how money is spent, but the emphasis is on creating more jobs and saving jobs from being cut, he said.

Recommendations include adding another class for 4-year-olds in addition to those started this year at Newport and Pullman elementary schools, more teachers in grades where class sizes are too high, more lunch and recess aides, remedial summer schools, help for high school students who are not on track to pass graduation requirements, Next Step principal salary for post high school special education students, district communications specialist, additional staff to teach students not proficient in English, offset the cost of some buses and training teachers to help other teachers use existing technology.

The district, after federal approval of the bill, was told Aug. 10 that it would get the money, said Porter who added that it's "a tight time frame" to make spending decisions.

Porter said the administration's recommendations are nearly identical to those in Stillwater Area and North St. Paul Maplewood Oakdale school districts.

Two school board members, who have clashed politically on previous spending matters, expressed opposing views on the federal stimulus money.

Board Member Ron Kath thanked the administration for their work on the recommendations. "But after some soul searching," Kath said he could not support the spending until the government has a balanced budget, "which is unlikely."

The federal government is not paying for its numerous federal mandates, he said, leaving much debt for future generations.

"Enough's enough," Kath said, adding that local officials should "stand up" and not spend stimulus money.

"We're here to help the kids," said Board Member Jim Gelbmann.

Federal debt is the result of "two huge wars and the Wall Street failure," he said.

The board should have spent $900,000 at the beginning of the year from the district's approximate $15 million unallocated fund balance.

"It's shameful we had to wait to use federal money" to pay for the administration's recommendations that should have been in the budget.

However, Gelbmann said he doesn't support taking the Next Step principal's salary for $150,000 and money for extra buses out of the general fund to be paid with federal money.

That money should be used for education, he said.

Gelbmann said he was told, during Woodbury High School parent conferences, that some math and science classes had more than 40 students. Money should be spent to reduce those class sizes, he said.

The reasons for the federal deficit could be debated indefinitely, Kath said.

"But I don't want people to think I don't care about kids," he said.

The district balanced the budget for next year using unallocated money, Kath said.

"Our fund balance is evaporating rapidly," he said.

Gelbmann said 140 high school students are "in danger" of not passing tests required to graduate.

Money should be spent to adequately educate those students.

"Let's give them the tools they need to pay off the debt," Gelbmann said.

Board Member Marsha Adou is also concerned about using federal money for the Next Step principal and buses. "Learning should be the focus," she said.

Money is needed for pre-school programs and English language learners because the number of students needing help is growing.

Porter said the district is evaluating existing early childhood programs to see how they fit with the newly implemented classes for 4-year-olds.

Board Member David Kemper also questioned moving the Next Step principal's salary out of the general fund. He prefers spending money for more high school teachers.

Porter said staffing for secondary schools is different from the elementary level because one high school class might have 15 students. Another might have 40, but the average will still meet the policy.

"That's great for the 15 students in that class but not so good for large classes as high as 40 students," Gelbmann said.

Superintendent's recommendations for federal money

• $75,000 for another pre-school class.

• $150,000 for more teachers to lower class-sizes in fourth and fifth-grades.

• $55,000 for more lunch and recess aides.

• $100,000 for remedial summer school not funded for next summer.

• $120,000 for remedial help for high school students in danger of not passing graduation requirements.

• $50,000 for secondary summer school, also not funded for next summer.

• $150,000 for Next Step principal.

• $50,000 for communications specialist.

• $50,000 for English proficiency teachers.

• $90,000 for contracted buses.

• $10,000 for technology training for teachers in their classrooms.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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