SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

March 4, 2009

Special ed cash finds wary welcome

Superintendents wonder about restrictions on government money

Local school superintendents are looking at a cash infusion from the federal government to help some of their neediest students. For the moment, they're looking at it cautiously.

As part of the Obama administration's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, schools nationwide are receiving additional funding for two federal programs, Title I-A and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The first provides assistance for mathematics and reading programs for children who take part in the free or reduced-cost lunch programs. The IDEA program provides funding for special education assistance for children with disabilities ages 3 to 21.

The additional funding for each program will come as a lump sum to be spent over the course of two budget years.

As districts struggle with the prospect of teacher layoffs and program cuts, administrators welcome any assistance, but in this case, they're waiting to count their chickens. The recovery program is rolling out so fast they're waiting for direction on exactly what they'll be able to do with the additional money.

"It can sure be put to excellent uses," Salem Superintendent William Cameron said. "But we lack information about the rules for expending these funds beginning July 1."

The crux of the concern for local officials is how much of the additional money is restricted to spending on new initiatives, and how much might be used to save existing programs and personnel from the budget ax.

Hamilton-Wenham Superintendent Marinel McGrath expressed concern about creating new programs or positions with new money that won't be around forever.

Ipswich Superintendent Rick Korb agreed.

"I'm telling my School Committee I'm looking at this as soft money," he said.

Congressman John Tierney said in a telephone interview yesterday local districts will be able to spend the money in any way they see fit, as long as it is consistent with the guidelines for each of the programs.

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