COLUMBUS SCHOOL DISTRICT
BY BRIAN JONES
[I also feel I should mention one other fact that I forgot to include last week: the large number of city luminaries in attendance. Mayor Robert Smith, council members Gene Taylor, Kabir Karriem and Bill Gavin were scattered throughout the audience. They all started to trickle out a bit after 7 p.m. – Brian Jones] Brown appeared before the board to ask for approval to submit the district’s request for federal funds for the next school year. Brown’s request was the original stated reason for the meeting, but, by the time the meeting was held, the agenda had ballooned to include many other matters. [As I wrote last week, the meeting lasted over three and a half hours – and that was in spite of the fact that several items that had crept onto the agenda had been removed. – Brian Jones]
“Federal programs came into existence in 1965 when the government tried to alleviate the problems faced by children coming from a high-poverty background,” Brown said. “Our intent is to give all children a level playing field so that they will have the opportunity to be successful in school.”
“We receive federal funds based on the census data for the district,” Brown said. “There is nothing that we submit. It comes from census numbers. But in turn we allocate funds based to individual schools based on the free and reduced lunch count. We have very little discretion in allocating funds for the schools. We have to rank the schools in the level of poverty, and we allocate more funds to the school with the most poverty if we think they need it. All of our schools receive $302 per student. This year we will receive $2.3 million for Title I and $390,000 for Title II. [Title I funds are for disadvantaged children, while Title II funds are used to fund teacher and administrator training. – Brian Jones] “At this point in time, our allocation are based on 85 percent of what we receive during the school year,” Brown said. “Congress has not passed an appropriation. They can’t reduce the allocation below 85 percent of what we got last year, so the state will only let us budget that 85 percent right now. You also have to keep in mind that the federal sequester will reduce our allocation by 5 percent.”
Federal funds cannot provide basic services, Brown said.
“Federal funds must supplement, they cannot supplant,” he said. “They are not intended for the basics. Building schools, transportation, things like that are the district’s responsibility. We also must pay for the state mandated minimum number of teachers. The state says one teachers for every 27 students. If we had one classroom that had 28 kids, you could not use federal dollars to hire another teacher because that would be supplanting the district’s responsibility under state law.”
Brown said that the number of homeless students the district serves is increasing.
“We serve about 154 students this year that qualify as homeless,” he said. “That is unprecedented. We provide services like tutoring, and we work with local charities to try to get clothing and school supplies.”
Alma Turner questioned when the material in Brown’s proposal was made available.
“When did you post this information online?” she asked.
“I e-mailed this information to [Superintendent Martha Liddell] a week ago,” Brown said. “I asked that it be forwarded to all board members. I can’t post to Board Book, and our Board Book person was out of town. I wanted you to get it ASAP so I sent it out Tuesday.” [Keep in mind this meeting was the Tuesday after Memorial Day. When Mr. Brown said he sent it out “Tuesday,” he means May 21. – Brian Jones] “We did send that out, Mr. Brown,” Liddell said.
“I did not receive it,” Turner said.
“I didn’t, either,” Angela Verdell said. “I only saw it Sunday.”
“We’ll double check those e-mail streams,” Liddell said.
Turner questioned whether federal funds could be used for safety.
“Up until three years ago we had Title IV funds, which were for safe and drug free schools,” Brown said. “Congress eliminated that funding. Title I and II are geared more toward academics.”
“With all of the incidents that took place this year, I would think there are some legislative items that granted funded federal money for school safety,” Turner said.
“It has not trickled down to us,” Brown said. “I’m sure we can apply for it once it trickles down.”
“So you’re saying it’s not available at all,” Turner said.
“Not that I’m aware of,” Brown said. “Not right now.”
When Brown asked the board to approve his funding request, Turner objected.
“I just got this information,” she said. “I don’t feel like I can make a decision in one day. This is a budget of $2 million and I can’t make a decision in this amount of time. I don’t think it’s fair.”
Brown said that the district’s application will “go to the back of the line” if it is not submitted by May 31.
“If our funding request is not approved, we will have to operate from our current funds,” Brown said. “We’ll be able to make payroll for a couple of months but that’s it. Once we submit the application, we are allowed to go ahead and start using federal funds based on anticipated use. For instance if we’re funding 18 teachers, we can go ahead and fund those teachers even though the project has not been approved. If we have not submitted a proposal, then we can’t. You can’t anticipate something that’s not been submitted.”
“I’m just saying this information was provided to us one day prior to the meeting,” Turner said. “That doesn’t give me adequate time to review it.”
“I checked the email and it’s showing that it was sent to you May 21 at 11:55 a.m.,” Liddell said. “We’re going to look and see what happened with that.”
“I did receive some information, but I did not receive the budget,” Turner said. “I did receive the request to approve school-wide plans, but I did not receive this budget information. I did not receive the federal funding budget plan.”
“If we did not approve this tonight and we have to use our rainy day funds, and then the project is approved, can we reimburse that money?” Jason Spears asked.
“Yes, once it’s approved,” Brown said. “I used to ask our past business manager this all the time. How long could we survive as a district without that money? His answer was two or three months.” “If we don’t approve this until June, does it reduce the likelihood that we’ll get what we’re asking for?” Verdell asked.
“No, not at all,” Brown said. “It’s just a matter of going to the back of the line. We turned in the application on the day it was due last year and it was approved within two weeks. It could be as late as October if we miss that deadline.”
Turner made a motion to table the application for federal funds, but it died for lack of a second. Spears made a motion, seconded by Verdell, to approve it. His motion passed 3-1, with Turner voting no.