Schools Outline Ideas for Stimulus Funding

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At this point, its all a waiting game.

The total dollar amount of the Obama administrations economic stimulus package is set at $789 billion, with more than $500 billion to be spent directly by the federal government. But the myriad details remain to be worked out, leaving local municipalities to plan and speculate as best they can.

In Alexandria, the stimulus package is expected to bring schools about $8.2 million over the next two fiscal years, $5.3 million of which is allocated for spending in FY 2010, according to Alexandria City Public Schools.

This is one of those rare opportunities in education where we get to revisit our work and look at opportunities to serve our students and to serve our staff so that we can move ahead, ACPS Superintendent Morton Sherman said.

As of right now, the schools are expecting to receive a higher guaranteed amount than the city, most of whose money could come in the form of grants, according to the presentation at Mondays joint work session with the City Council and the School Board.

This leaves ACPS in a position to help out the city, possibly asking less of the government than originally proposed and strengthening the relationship between the two as they face an unstable economic future, Sherman said.

This influx is at once a blessing and an additional burden. The majority of the stimulus funds have federal regulations limiting their use, requiring the ACPS financial staff to work creatively toward getting the most out of the money.

Since Congress passed the stimulus package officially called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in February, the estimated numbers coming back to ACPS have changed slightly in size and distribution.

While the federal government continues to finalize the minutiae, ACPS staff has been developing potential ideas for using the funds, some of which were presented along with a revised economic forecast for FY 2011 to 2014 to the School Board in a work session Thursday night.

With the schools FY 2010 budget request of the city (a 1.5 percent cut from the year before, falling short of the citys recommended 2 percent mark) not yet approved by the city council, some of the funds could be used toward reducing the amount being asked of the city to attain that 2 percent mark.

Part of this proposal included the addition of two paid professional development days for teachers and paraprofessionals, keeping them in the schools rather than out and effectively lengthening their contract to make it one of the longer paid-day contracts in the region, said Margaret Byess, assistant superintendent for finance.

If utilized, this would fund about $1.2 million of the ACPS operating budget and help reach that 2 percent mark.

The concept of professional development was terrific, School Board Chair Yvonne Folkerts said. I have heard over the years from teachers who are concerned about the amount of time that they have to be out of the classroom for training and development, and hopefully this could alleviate some of those concerns.

After meeting with three student focus groups in the last two weeks, Sherman said that he and his staff are developing different ideas for enrichment and support programs like field trips and tutoring resources.

In addition, any proposals for using stimulus funds need to fall within the framework of the schools new strategic plan.

Whatever we put together, we will make sure that there is a match between what the recommendations are and the strategic plan, Sherman said.

With more ideas surely on the way before any actions will be official, possibly as soon as mid- to late-April, Thursdays proposal has the School Board contemplating those ideas already on the table and how they could be used to reconcile the current budgets proposed city allocation and the amount that the city has said it is willing to pay.

Whatever programs are ultimately adopted for stimulus funding, when the time comes, it is up to the school board to amend its proposed FY 2010 budget and approve the use of the stimulus funds.

I thought [the ideas] were very interesting and gave us a lot of things to think about, Folkerts said. If we work through the stimulus funding and watch their deliberations, we would be open to changes in our request to them.

Were not there yet, but I think wed be open to looking at that again.

Given all the difficult decisions we have had to make already, Sherman said, I think theres still serious reason that we need to look at making some of those changes in the operating budget so that we have a good partnership in years ahead, so when we continue to grow in enrollment, we can go back to the city and say, Look, times are better, and we need additional funding.

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