LORAIN — The district’s spending of Title I and other grants complies with state guidelines, according to a Lorain Schools official.
At Tuesday’s Academic Distress Commission meeting, treasurer and Chief Innovations Officer Josh Hill explained this year’s switch to a pooling system of district funds. Questions surrounding the district’s use of Title I funding previously have been brought up by Academic Distress Commission member Diane Conibear-Xander and school board members, including concerns that Title I funds were being used to pay for deans’ salaries in full.
The pooling system allows schools to lump Title I, state, local, special education and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act funding to pay for instructional costs throughout the district. Hill said it gives the district more flexibility in budgeting and comparing the district’s total expenditures to its total revenue — rather than spending all grant funding and then paying the difference out of the general fund. Wednesday evening he explained that previous spending tactics weren’t so different.
“You’d spend down your (Title I) and then any kind of overflow cost you’d end up using the general fund dollars,” he said. “But this just allows you to look at the big picture and not piece-part everything out.”
Title I is provided to districts based on the percentage of low-income students in the school, and the funding is meant to provide services to help those children meet state academic standards. The IDEA grant based on the number of students a district serves with special education needs or disabilities and those in poverty. It is meant to be used for advanced costs for students with disabilities, including support and direct services.
Only districts with 40 percent or more of its students considered low-income are eligible for the pooling system, according to the Ohio Department of Education.
For this school year, the district’s 598 fund created by the pool totaled more than $54 million. Of that, more than $2.9 million was Title I, $1.7 was IDEA funds, $11.3 million was special education funding and $38.2 million was state and local funds.
At the Academic Distress Commission meeting, Hill said that 91.26 percent of the schoolwide pool comes from the general fund; 3.29 percent comes from IDEA and 5.44 percent comes from Title I. On average, 5.44 percent of all salaries and benefits are Title I-funded, including administrator, support and instructional salaries.
Hill said roughly $961,000 of Title I funds is not included in the pool, as it is earmarked for other uses. A portion of that pays for 100 percent of Chief Family Officer Arliss Prass’ salary and benefits, he said. Prass’ base salary, per her contract, is $118,500, not including retirement or insurance benefits paid by the district. Similar to the other chiefs, the district “picks up” Prass’ required contribution to the State Teachers Retirement System. According to the fund’s budget that was shared with The Chronicle-Telegram and ADC members, the district’s “set aside” for Prass from Title I funding is $175,094.53.
On Wednesday evening, Hill said use of Title I funds is not entirely new under CEO David Hardy, as former Professional Development Coordinator Mike Scott was paid for entirely from Title I funds.
“The actual true, 100 percent covered out of (Title I), she’s the only admin,” he said. “That was the big question, everyone thought the deans were 100 percent covered in (Title I), and they’re not — it’s only 5 percent of their salary, just like every teacher.”
According to spreadsheets sent to the Academic Distress Commission and The Chronicle, the district’s elementary schools’ qualifying expenditures are paid by between 5.9 percent and 7.4 percent of Title I funds and between 2 percent and 2.8 percent of IDEA funds. Similar numbers are seen at the middle school level, though IDEA percentages increase to as high as 3.4 percent. New Beginnings Academy uses the highest percentage of each: close to 8.6 percent of Title I and 3.4 percent of IDEA funds. The high school’s pool payments are composed of 2.58 percent Title I and 4.71 percent IDEA funding.
Hill said the differences at the building level are based in part on need and student population.
“The idea behind this is to not only take general fund dollars and be proactive with that planning of spending, but also take and steer grant funds, i.e. (Title I) and IDEA in here and rolling them in and looking at the total pot of needs and the total pot of revenue and making sure that a piece of each one of these sections — general fund dollars, Title I and IDEA — touch everything instructional,” he said.