Wednesday, March 05, 2008

We just spent $24,000 on banned items? Whoops..

While schools in fiscal crisis, state rules put over $200k off-limits.
Orland spends $24,000 on banned items anyway
By Sam Bhagwat
of the Valley Mirror
Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.
Glenn County schools are facing a budget crisis, with Willows facing a $1 million shortfall for next year.
Meanwhile, districts are figuring out how to spend $482,000 given last year in a block grant for PE, art, and music. Willows and Orland, which received about two-thirds of the money between them, have around $180,000 left.
They can’t use the money thats left to stem a possible hiring freeze or teacher layoffs — though Willows’s superintendant says he would if he could.
But they can’t spend it on nailed, bolted, or cemented-down items — like basketball courts — that are related to arts, music, and athletics, either.
Or, at least, they’re not supposed to: Orland schools used $24,000 for playgrounds anyway.
The entire episode shows a gap between state and local priorities. Grant administrator Nancy Carr said the grant was intended to pay for teacher training, as well as to buy supplies and equipment.
It would not provide for any “building, site, or infrastructure improvements.” Ms. Carr said there were other grants for that purpose, and gave an example in which art supplies were “key” but infrastructure — a track field — was “nice to have.”
Were the restrictions put in place becuase Sacramento had more expertise than local districts?
“I’ve made 18,000 phone calls since January 2006, talking to those who receive funds about good profesisonal development, about what art education is,” she said.
She added that she “would never presume to tell anyone, ‘I know more than you do,’” but that some districts might have “forgot” about art education since 1978, after the passage of Proposition 13.
Enter local priorities: what Glenn County schools want to buy.
Willows Unified eyed using part of its $143,000 to get new gym lockers, but couldn’t.
“They’re nailed to the wall,” explained superintendant Steve Olmos.
Desired basketball courts were also a no-go: cemented in the ground.
Meanwhile, Orland Unified seems to have overlooked the restrictions, using part of its $180,000 at Mill Street and Fairview School on playgrounds, with “fitness clusters” for calisthenics: climbing and swinging on rings. That’s infrastructure — not allowed.
When told about Willows not putting in the lockers, business manager Laura Holderfield hypothesized the difference “could be that (playgrounds) are not attached to buiildings.”
Doesn’t matter, said Ms. Carr. But she noted that the grant did not have teeth: “I cannot take back the money.”
Told of Ms. Carr’s comments, Ms. Holderfield laughed. “That’s kind of what we figured,” she said.
The grant-uncompliant items were only part of the spending. Willows used the money to buy a 30-foot radius, canopied acoustical shell; risers; software for the art-department; musical instruments for the elementary. Orland purchased weight room equipment, portable goals, a volleyball net, musical instruments, and high school art supplies.
And what about cuts this year; would school districts prefer to use that money to stem them?
“Absolutely,” said Dr. Olmos of Willows. “But that’s not an option.”

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