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Schools will share $12.6M surplus federal funds

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Extra federal funding from last school year will give Pinellas County a jump start on several new programs for the most struggling students.

School Board members last week voted unanimously to roll about $12.6 million in unused funding from the 2012-13 school year into the $24.6 million already allotted to the Title I budget for costs related to “student achievement,” for a new grant total of $37.2 million.

The school district’s Local Agency Delinquent Program Grant funding, another portion of Title I dollars for at-risk students, will also get an extra $143,465 from the 2012-13 school year added to the existing budget of $834,175, for a total of $977,640.

The extra Title I money, dedicated to schools in high poverty areas, will be spent on extended instructional time for students through the school district’s new Summer Bridge program, a six-week course for elementary, middle and high school students in need of academic support to enter the next grade level.

Last year, the summer school program cost about $3.1 million in state and Title I federal funding, which covered costs for 495 teachers, and supplies and materials for around 9,000 students. No money came from the school district’s budget.

The money also will buy computers and licenses for software for the one-to-one digital enterprise laptop initiative, which aims to provide Internet access to every student. Last year, the school district provided take-home laptops to about 60 percent of students enrolled in its 37 Title I elementary schools, and 160 more to nonnative English-speaking students at Oak Grove Middle School in a $4 million initiative.

The extra money, said Kevin Smith, associate superintendent of finance and business services, will provide:

♦  Stipends for teachers working in “extended day” tutoring before or after the traditional school day.

♦  Salary increases for hourly teachers and support staff in Title I funded positions.

♦  Additional instructional coaches and intervention teachers to help struggling students.

♦  Additional teachers to lower teacher-pupil ratios at some schools.

♦  Supplemental materials and supplies for Title I programs such as parental involvement activities and professional development sessions for teachers.

The boost in funding to programs for neglected and delinquent students will expand transition efforts in dropout prevention programs, with a focus on increasing on-time graduation rates and college readiness.

Last year, the graduation rate at Bayside High was 24 percent, with 56 graduates out of a class of 234. Graduation rates also were less than 10 percent at three other charter high schools targeting at-risk students.

Funds will also be used to implement and enhance STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math — opportunities for these students through real-world, hands-on programs and labs.

This year’s legislative session is in its final days, and the school district is looking at increases in funding under both the House ($25 million) and the Senate ($23 million) proposed budgets, though smaller than last year’s increases, Superintendent Michael Grego said. The funding is still a “drop in the bucket” considering inflation and lacking funds for construction projects, he said.

“We still need to be very diligent in encouraging the House and Senate to increase our funding,” Grego said.

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