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Schools could get boost from 'stimulus'

The federal stimulus package that was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday could be a much-needed infusion of money to local schools if it eventually is signed into law.

Detroit Lakes Public Schools is slated to get $1.6 million over the next two schools years, Waubun-Ogema-White Earth would get $597,800, Frazee-Vergas would receive $560,000 and Lake Park-Audubon's slice of the pie would be $319,000.

Those amounts are estimates only and are based on funding formulas currently in place.

The proposed grants are split up into three areas: Title I spending, construction and special education. Title I funding is used to help students coming from low-income families.

While the districts can't cash any checks yet, Lake Park-Audubon Superintendent Dale Hogie said that any little bit helps.

"I think that the areas that the money would go, Title I and special education, are always areas that are short anyway," Hogie said.

But the money that LP-A would get for construction is small for the 2009-10 school year. The district would only get $85,000.

"With our aging facilities, it won't permit new construction," Hogie said.

He added: "It's a drop in the bucket."

Waubun-Ogema-White Earth Superintendent Mitch Anderson said that the Title I funding increase would be significant.

Waubun would get more than $164,000 over the next two school years.

Construction grants make up a third of the money Waubun would get. Over $235,000 would go to construction.

Anderson isn't sure of the specifics, though, and would have to see if any construction grants could be retroactively applied to recently completed construction projects.

"We wrapped up most of the construction," Anderson said.

Multiple calls to Detroit Lakes Superintendent Doug Froke and Frazee-Vergas Superintendent Deron Stender were not returned.

With the increase in funding, Hogie said that directly funding the schools isn't the big story. It's the stimulus money that is going to the state.

The state is facing a $4.8 billion deficit that is projected to rise when the next budget forecast is released at the end of February.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty is counting on stimulus money to help cushion the blow of budget cuts. If the House bill becomes law, the state would see $4.5 billion flow in for various projects. Not all of that, though, will offset state spending needs.

"It eliminates cuts," Hogie said of the federal stimulus. "That in and of itself is a good thing."

Because it helps stave off cuts, Hogie said that the stimulus' effect on education is a stimulus in name only.

"It's really not stimulating anything," he said.

As for the local impact of any cuts that the Lake Park-Audubon district could be facing if K-12 funding is cut as the budget moves through the state legislature, Hogie said that any slashes to the budget wouldn't be superficial as past cuts were.

"Family members, students and members of the community would see those cuts," Hogie said.

Hogie said that spending in the LP-A district has been modest at most. In fact, he said that annual increases have been lower than inflation.

He also said that if state increased funding by 2.5 percent annually, the district would have a balanced budget and not have to use an operating levy.

Without that proper funding, Hogie said that the district is just hanging on. That means open positions go unfilled, older equipment is used and any extra classes or programs that the school district might offer are off of the table.

And LP-A's situation isn't unique.

Moorhead will have to cut $4.9 million from its budget next year, which equates to a 10 percent cut.

The Moorhead district is looking to eliminate 64 positions, as reported by The Forum earlier last week.

"There are very few school districts in the state where cuts will be invisible to the citizens," Hogie said.