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The Suburbanite
  • Stimulus in Stark: Money helps keep school jobs, but creates few

  • Stark County public schools and universities were awarded more than $44 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Some educators say the money has allowed them to keep programs and employees, but has done little to help them create new jobs.

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  • Scott Campbell considers himself lucky to have a job at a time when unemployment in Stark County is at a 25-year high.
    The 26-year-old Mount Union College graduate — a kindergarten teacher for Perry Local Schools — says mentors steered him toward elementary education where fewer teachers are men.
    A year ago, Campbell taught extended-day kindergarten classes for students who needed more attention than the half-day program provided. It was a part-time job.
    “It’s scary,” Campbell said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen.”
    But since the district implemented all-day, everyday kindergarten using federal stimulus funds, Campbell’s fears have been put to rest, and now he’s a full-time teacher.
    In all, more than 200 school jobs were funded in Stark by stimulus dollars, according to data collected by The Repository and The Independent.
    Federal stimulus money has helped schools retain programs and employees like Campbell, educators say. But others believe the $44 million awarded to public schools and universities in Stark County through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has allowed them only to tread water.
    Canton City Schools Treasurer Jeff Gruber believes federal stimulus grants prevented overwhelming staff and budget cuts at school districts across Stark County and Ohio.
    “This is a national crisis,” Gruber said. “If they wouldn’t have had this program in place, the losses in education would have been catastrophic. The numbers we’re looking at for unemployment would have been significantly higher.”
    Massillon City Schools Treasurer Teresa Emmerling said the grants only offset other dollars stripped by the state legislature.
    ‘SHOW ME THE MONEY’
    The Massillon district received $1.1 million in state fiscal stabilization funds this school year from the stimulus, but it lost about $1.8 million in poverty-based assistance (PBA) dollars, Emmerling said. The state legislature made PBA dollars obsolete when it passed the biennial budget last year.
    “I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but show me where that $1.8 million is,” Emmerling said. “Sure, you’re giving me $1.1 million, but show me where that other money went. We’ve been cut. We’re either a zero increase or losing dollars.
    “I understand the state is broke, but they are telling the general public we’re getting all this money for education,” she said. “But from our perspective — show me the money.”
    Gruber believes another round of funding may be needed if things don’t change.
    “I’m starting to believe that if things don’t turn around in a year and a half, there’s going to need to be another round of stimulus funding,” he said.
    The Ohio Department of Education administered and awarded most of the grants based on a funding formula. Many school districts have received and spent only part of the funding. In some cases, districts are waiting to be reimbursed for money they’ve spent.
    Page 2 of 2 - All public school districts, and some charter schools, received money that will benefit their general operating budgets and programs for poor students and students with special needs. Those funds accounted for 95 percent of the school districts’ allocation.
    Most of the money has gone toward saving jobs.
    “When 80-plus percent of your expenditures are for salary and personnel, it only made sense for our district to retain as many people as we could,” said Gruber, noting that Canton City schools funded nearly 40 jobs with stimulus dollars.
    Emmerling, however, fears that dedicating all the money to personnel is risky. Instead, Massillon also is spending the money on professional development, a reading program and curriculum improvements. Emmerling said money spent on salaries only offsets other state budget cuts.
    “Every workshop I’ve attended ... said don’t spend the money on staffing because the money is going to be gone in two years,” she said.
    Other funds benefited select districts. For example, only Alliance, Canton and Massillon city school districts and Plain Local Schools received money under the Education of Homeless Children and Youth Fund.
    The different grants have allowed districts to spend money in a variety of areas. Not only did Stark districts hire or retain teachers and aides, but they also replaced outdated computers, textbooks and software and bought kitchen and other cafeteria equipment.
    SAVING JOBS
    Massillon schools bought a van and school bus for disabled students. The Marlington Local School District used money from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to retrofit buses with filters that reduce carbon monoxide emissions. And Perry used money for its kindergarten program, a state requirement by 2011-2012.
    “Without the stimulus money, it would not have been as easy to implement it right away,” Perry Superintendent John Richard said. “What probably would have happened is we would have had to look at other programs (to cut). We may have had to look at other things that are good for kids that we obviously don’t want to get rid of. That’s everybody’s concern.”
    Not only has Campbell, the Genoa Elementary kindergarten teacher, benefited from the program, but so have students, believes Campbell.
    “We want them to get off on the right foot,” he said. “Now we’ve got this (stimulus) money, let’s put it into full tilt. Being able to do this shows us that all-day kindergarten is something we really needed all along.”
     

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