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November 22, 2014

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Daily Memo: Education:

Lots of logical uses of stimulus money ruled out

Title I lesson from Sandy Valley: Don’t spend federal money on equipment

One of the tricky parts about managing schools is taking into account that what the feds give, the feds can take away.

That’s what happened three years ago when a truck drove to the little Sandy Valley School, 50 miles outside of Las Vegas. A work crew began packing up computers, software programs, books and other instructional aids — all purchased with specialized federal funding intended to help Clark County’s poorest students.

In 2006 the number of students receiving free or reduced-priced meals dipped slightly at the rural school, although nearly 60 percent still qualify. But the change was enough to bump Sandy Valley off the district’s roster of campuses that receive extra federal money because they serve the most children from low-income households. In Clark County a school qualifies for those Title I funds if at least 67 percent of its students qualify for free or low-cost meals.

Federal law requires that once a school is no longer designated as Title I, anything purchased with those extra dollars must be removed and reallocated. At Sandy Valley, the moving crew even rolled up the classroom rugs printed with numbers and letters, used by teachers for interactive lessons.

Beginning in August, Sandy Valley expects to begin collecting Title I money for two years through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the federal stimulus package. Sandy Valley is one of 68 Clark County campuses that will share $57 million in Title I money over the next two years. The final list goes to the Clark County School Board on Thursday for approval.

(The district is also getting an increase in its regular Title I funding, allowing 83 of the district’s 353 schools to benefit from the program, compared with 76 campuses last school year.) Because the stimulus funding is a short-term allocation, the feds have told districts and schools that the money can’t be used for such items as computers or instructional supplies — anything that might wind up on a moving truck two years down the road. Schools are also required to demonstrate how their proposed expenditures will increase parental involvement, a requisite of the stimulus package.

Campus administrators had to hurry to come up with their proposals. Del Sol High School Principal Betsy Angelcor said she was notified about 10 days ago that her campus was on the tentative “stimulus” Title I list. She has until the end of the month to submit her proposed budget.

“For $440,000, I’ll stay up all night writing; I don’t care,” Angelcor said, referring to the amount of extra funding Del Sol is expected to receive. “I’m just grateful.”

When test results come out next month showing whether the district’s schools made adequate yearly progress, Del Sol is expected to be designated as “needs improvement” for a fourth consecutive year.

The stimulus money will be used to reduce class sizes in math, English and science, bringing them down to 28 to 30 students per teacher. Student-teacher ratios were as high as 38-1 in the core subjects. The money will also go toward after-school tutoring, and hiring someone to call or visit families of students who are habitual truants.

Angelcor plans to better identify students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals, in the hope that Del Sol will be able to keep its Title I designation beyond the two years of the stimulus plan.

Sandy Valley, which serves about 300 students in grades K-12, expects to receive $57,000 to train teachers to better teach reading, writing and math as well as to increase from one to three the number of parent-teacher conferences during the year.

Sandy Valley teachers have been volunteering their time as tutors, one of the reasons the campus is expected to have made adequate progress when the results are announced next month, Principal Mark Jones said. The stimulus money will mean he can pay them for their after-hours tutoring efforts.

The investment in teacher training will pay off long past the expiration date for the special Title I designation, Jones said. Sandy Valley has a particularly loyal faculty, and the entire staff is returning in the fall.

“Whether the money runs out or not, the school doesn’t stop,” Jones said. “We’ll be right here.”

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