Darien board hesitant about grant spending
The Darien school district administration has plans to spend more than $240,000 from a grant on technology upgrades, but the plans weren't discussed with the Board of Education until its Tuesday meeting -- 10 days before the application needs to be submitted to the state.
"We got the announcement a week ago so we had to turn it around pretty quick," Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Schools Judith Pandolfo said in reference to when the district received the grant money and were asked to provide a spending plan for the funds.
The $244,923, part of the Title I-part A grant, which is intended to be used for improving basic programs operated by local education agencies, is $158,789 more than the district received for the 2012-13 school year.
"The federal government just doesn't give up extra money," Vice Chairman Heather Shea said.
The extra funds, according to Pandolfo, were given to the district based on census data.
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Pandolfo said other districts in the area received extra funds they doesn't normally receive.
Shea was doubtful about the projects that were proposed under the Title I grant, stating that she didn't feel the grant money should be spent on items that the Board of Education should provide through its budget, such as technology upgrades.
Two technology projects were put forward for the grant. The first project -- which would account for $150,000 -- would upgrade the equipment in the kindergarten throughout grade five classrooms to be more prepared for the Smarter Balance Assessments -- the new testing is in line with the new Common Core State Standards -- that will be administered by spring 2015 and will be taken on computers only. Three computer labs are set to be improved at the cost of $30,000 per classroom.
"There's a lot of pressure to be ready for the Smarter Balance," Pandolfo said. "Some computers are not working as well as they should because they're a little older."
The second, which Shea said concerned her, is the installation of a satellite classroom at Darien High School that would serve as the model for 21st-century classes. The classroom would be used as an alternate location for before- and after-school tutoring and enrichment programs and as a learning center for educators to learn and reflect on their teaching through technology.
The satellite classroom is anticipated to cost $95,000.
The plans for the satellite classroom have been discussed, though, according to Superintendent Stephen Falcone.
"When we go through the budget process -- in terms of technology -- that's something internally we say, `Not this year,' " Falcone said, who added that the satellite classroom has been on the table for five years.
Members of the board questioned why the administration was presenting the projects in such short notice.
"I think we want to be sure we're spending it in the most appropriate way," Vice Chairman Heather Shea said. "We would have liked a bigger presentation." She suggested that the administration start the conversation of how money would be spent if the money was available before being awarded a grant.
"We want to understand how you set priorities," Shea said.
Board members asked why the grant money could not be spent on tablet integration in the classrooms.
"The train has already left the station on iPads," board member Katie Stein said. "We have to get on board soon or we're going to miss the train."
The district also received $53,402 for the Title II-part A grant to be used to improve teacher quality with 27-day on-site training for staff from the Teacher College Reading Writing Project and will pay for substitutes to cover teachers' classes. It is anticipated that all elementary school teachers and middle school English teachers will receive the training. The grant funding is an increase of $1,755 over last year.
Due to a decrease in students who require English as a Second Language instruction, the funds for the Title III grant -- which is for English language acquisition and language enhancement -- decreased by $1,264 from the 2012-13 school year. The district received $1,858, which will be used for cooperative educational services to provide professional development for the school staff.
It was detemined that the district would inform the state about their proposed proejcts and if changes need to be made, they would be.
"You can only spend money once and there are a lot of good ways to spend this money," board member James Plutte said. "If the administration thinks this is a good way to spend this money, I'm not going to question it."
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