Aid change puts 50 school jobs in doubt

Springfield won’t know how much Title I money it will get before start of classes.

Springfield school officials say a change to how some federal funds are distributed by the state may prevent the district from having 50 staff members in place at the start of school.

Title I School Improvement funds — federal money directed to struggling schools with large low-income populations — will not be distributed by the Ohio Department of Education until at least one week after school starts, he said.

“How much money we get and where that money goes is directly tied to the results on the school report card,” Estrop said.

The district plans to use the money to pay salaries for 41 tutors for students and nine academic coaches who help teachers design lesson plans.

“What this means is we have some front-line service providers who may not be in place when schools opens for our kids,” said board Vice President Donna Picklesimer.

Treasurer Chris Mohr estimates the expense at about $30,000 a week in salaries for 50 employees. Annual salaries for tutors are about $26,000 while the coaches earn about $52,000 a year, he estimates.

The disbursement of those funds depends on how schools perform on the state report card, which won’t be released until Aug. 29, said Estrop. Springfield students go back to school Aug. 22.

The ODE did not return requests for comment Friday.

Other Title I funds could be used to fill the gap between the start of school and the release of the school improvement funds, said Estrop. But the Ohio Department of Education — the state agency responsible for disbursing the money — says the school improvement funds can’t be used retroactively to pay back the borrowed amount.

“We cannot recoup with school improvement dollars whatever we had to borrow initially,” said Estrop. And if schools are deemed ineligible after the report cards are released, the district may have to use its general fund or another source to cover the salary unexpectedly.

“That’s part of the dilemma also,” Estrop said. “Some of those schools, based on these new metrics for the state, may not be eligible for this type of funding.”

Officials are asking the ODE for more information to determine how to proceed with the jobs in question and have reached out to elected officials for help, Estrop said.

Sen. Chris Widener, R-Springfield, said his office has contacted the ODE on Springfield’s behalf.

“Whatever we can do to move this issue along,” Widener said. “We’ve got a call in to them right now to support his initiative to try to get this solved before the school year starts rather than weeks or months after the school year starts.”

Having the report card data the third week of August, when scores have been released in previous years would be helpful, but if the data were available in early August, it could be used to make important decisions for the coming school year, said Mohr.

“It is important data. We shouldn’t have to start a school year without having it in advance in time to use the data to make key decisions … in addition to helping us know what buildings we could use Title 1 School Improvement money on,” he said.

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