School Could Get $1.4 Million In Federal Funds

Supervisors asked to disburse fed funds based on enrollment

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Payson Unified School District could receive a $1.4-million windfall this year in combined federal aid from both the stimulus bill and money for rural schools. The district lost $292,000 in the current fiscal year after state budget cuts, according to county officials.

On Tuesday, Gila County supervisors will decide how to distribute roughly $2.1 million in federal money from the Secure Rural Schools act.

Superintendents countywide, along with county superinten-dent Linda O’Dell, agreed on a formula mostly based on enrollment and partially based on how many acres of national forest a district has. Each district could also receive a base amount.

From rural schools money, Payson could garner $500,000 if supervisors approve the agreed upon formula, Superintendent Casey O’Brien said previously. The district’s original maintenance and operations budget this year is $16 million.

From the stimulus bill, Payson schools could receive $746,000, and Pine $131,000, according to congressional Committee on Education and Labor estimates.

These funds, however, are allocated in specific amounts for special education and teaching low-income students.

Funds for construction, considered in an earlier proposal, no longer appear on the updated version.

County Manager Steven Besich said recently that Payson school district’s budget will decrease by $292,000 this year as a result of state cuts. All told, school districts countywide will lose $750,000.

The state did not cut Pine Strawberry’s budget because the school has fewer than 600 students and the district enjoys special small-school funding.

Each year through fiscal year 2011, the county will receive upwards of $2 million in rural schools money, although the amount will decrease each year. Congress passed the Secure Rural School legislation in 2000 to help counties with large amounts of federal land compensate for lost property tax revenue.

The program has never been fully funded, and last year the county received just $312,000.

Over the four years of full funding, the county will receive $9.6 million.

Of that, $7.3 million over four years will fund schools, $1.9 million will fund forest projects, and $385,000 will fund roads.

The legislature is still debating the depth of next year’s cuts to balance a state deficit that reportedly tops $3 billion.

Payson Unified School District has estimated its cut next year could reach $2.5 million.

However, those estimates were based on what some educators consider the most “draconian” of budget options presented last month by the chairs of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

Pine Strawberry Superintendent Mike Clark said because his district is so small, next year’s cuts may stay shallow.

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