The Norman Transcript

May 8, 2009

NPS to receive $4.3 million in stimulus money

By Julianna Parker Jones

The Norman school district is set to receive more than $4.3 million in one-time federal stimulus funds, and is set to receive more through the state allocation.

That money will be a boon to Norman Public Schools, but superintendent Joe Siano urged caution in spending it.

"I feel the urgency to get this money where it needs to be, but I think we need to be cautious in the way we do it," he said at a NPS board of education meeting Wednesday.

The stimulus funds are one-time allocations that must be encumbered by Sept. 30, 2011.

It's important to use them wisely, however, so as not to create programs the district can no longer fund after the money is used up, Siano said.

The federal stimulus money the district already knows about is designated for Title 1 and IDEA programs, which serve low-income students and those with disabilities, respectively.

Almost $1.2 million is designated for Title 1 programs, while about $3.1 million is designated for IDEA programs, Siano said.

The IDEA program is a poorly funded federal mandate that the extra money only funds to about 32 percent, he said.

The Title 1 money has a lot more potential because the district's annual budget for Title 1 is about $1.3 million, he said.

The district probably will receive more stimulus funds through the federal money allocated to the state stabilization fund, Siano said. The state received $578 million, and 82 percent must be used for education.

When that money was first announced, the district had high hopes for the funds, Siano said. But it soon became apparent that the state Legislature intends to take those funds into account when allocating state money to the schools.

"I think the Legislature's made it very clear it's going to be back-filled," Siano said. Instead of funding education at 100 percent, he said, they will probably under-fund it and let the stimulus funds take care of operating expenses.

While Siano said the district needed to be cautious with designating funds for certain projects Wednesday, he did outline the district's priority for these one-time funds.

Class size and teacher retention were at the top of the list, he said. Also, he said attention needs to be given to the program's stability and programs to serve at-risk students, including summer school, ELL, dropout intervention, gifted education and high school academic support programs.

Technology investment and professional development are also on the top of the list of possible projects, Siano said.

Julianna Parker Jones 366-3541 jparker@normantranscript.com