Associated Press Writer
LITTLE ROCK— School campuses across Arkansas are waiting to find out how much money they will get in the second phase of funding provided through the federal economic stimulus.
The state was awarded $363 million in stimulus money for education, ranging from pre-K to universities. Of that, $22 million went to cover deficits in higher education and $341 million was to be divided among the school districts.
The schools were allocated two-thirds of the latter amount over last spring and summer. How much of the remaining $112 million will reach the districts hasn’t yet been determined.
“We don’t know how much might have to go to pay for budget shortfalls,” Education Department spokeswoman Julie Thompson said. “We don’t know how much of the final 33 percent will make it out to schools.”
The state wasn’t feeling the recession as much when the first payments went out, so districts may see a less generous payout this time around.
Districts want the money so they can do everything from fix leaky roofs to buy musical instruments.
In southeast Arkansas, Lee County Schools Superintendent Saul Lusk said he is using buckets and barrels to catch rainwater in all three major classroom buildings of his 1,125-student district.
“We’re pretty much depending on (stimulus funding) to get us through,” Lusk said. The district still hasn’t gotten its first payment of $2.66 million, much less any of the $1.3 million due this year. Lusk said he has had to revise his forms outlining how the district would spend the money.
Lusk said the money from the second payment is not obligated, which is in line with advice given by the state Education Department.
In addition to new roofs, the first payment will also be used to improve technology and student services, he said.
Thompson said the governor’s office is working with federal officials to see how much of the $112 million has to plug holes in the budget. The state had to provide the information for the grant just as the state was cutting its overall budget, so officials focused first on the cuts, then on getting information to the U.S. Education Department. That resulted in a delay in letting the schools know how much they will get.
“As soon as we get information, we’ll be able to tell the schools,” Thompson said.
In the Greenland School District in northwest Arkansas, Superintendent Roland Smith said the district spent its first portion of the money — $417,000 — on books, a food service freezer, computers, tubas, after-school tutoring and other areas.
Smith said he’ll rely on his teachers’ creativity if the $205,000 that’s due doesn’t arrive.
That Greenland can make do without the second payment marks a turnaround for the district.
Greenland, with 815 students, is under state control, having been taken over because it was in fiscal distress two years ago. Once school board elections are held in September, the district will be on its own again, with fresh tax revenue approved by district voters and a $700,000 surplus. Smith, who was installed by the state to revive Greenland’s finances, inherited a deficit of more than $600,000.
The state’s largest district, the Little Rock School District, was allocated a first payment of $15.3 million, with $7.5 million for the second payment.