Schools Share $2.1 Million In Federal Money

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It turns out school superintendents around the county agreed on the formula to distribute $2.1 million in federal money for rural schools that Gila County supervisors approved last Tuesday — but they didn’t really agree.

“There was reluctant agreement of the people in the room to go along with what is in front of you,” said county Superintendent of Schools Linda O’Dell.

The proposal in front of supervisors included a base payment of roughly $22,000 to each district, and the rest of the money figured by enrollment — 65 percent — and forest acreage — 25 percent.

O’Dell said she didn’t agree with the proposal and instead advocated a formula that devoted one-third of the money to each enrollment, forest acreage and a base amount. Two superintendents advocated the money be disbursed solely based on enrollment, and others believed the money should be distributed more “fairly and equitably.”

“At the end of the day, a consensus and a vote took place and the vote was unanimous,” Payson Superintendent Casey O’Brien countered.

O’Dell later said she thought more emphasis should have been placed on forest acreage due to the law’s intent.

The money comes from the Secure Rural Schools act, which Congress signed in 2000 but never fully funded. In October’s bailout bill, Congress funded it through 2011.

Supervisor Shirley Dawson urged school officials to refrain from becoming dependent on the money because it may not be a permanent revenue source. The formula supervisors approved is solely for this fiscal year.

Payson Unified School District, with the most students of any district in the county — 2,475 — and the second highest percentage of national forest acreage, at 19 percent, benefited the most under this year’s formula. It received $541,000 compared to last year’s $28,000.

Last year, forest-rich districts with small enrollment received the most money. Young, with 57 students and the highest number of forest acreage in the county — 30 percent — was awarded the largest allotment under the old, forest-acreage-based formula.

Pine-Strawberry will receive $99,000, up from $14,800 last year. Gila County Regional School District, which includes the Globe and Payson education centers run by O’Dell, will receive $46,600, and the county schools office will get $200,000. Hayden-Winkelman will receive $90,000, which includes the base amount and money for the district’s 393 students.

O’Dell has said the county schools office uses money for things that benefit all the districts. Last year, the county office received $147,000, and the regional district $17,000.

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