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Superintendents learn more about stimulus funds

Local school administrators do not know how much stimulus money their systems will receive, but superintendents felt more optimistic after they learned help is on the way.

In the coming months, Gov. Bob Riley will allocate $596 million toward education that could help preserve 3,790 teacher units across the state.

Selma City Schools superintendent Dr. Austin Obasohan and Dallas County Schools superintendent Dr. Fannie Major-McKenzie left a meeting regarding The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 at the Montgomery Performing Arts Theatre with new hope for their schools. Obasohan and Major-McKenzie will find out how much money they will receive and how they can use it during regional meetings, which begin Wednesday in Montgomery.

“I’m highly impressed,” Obasohan said. “To protect the classroom has always been my priority.”

Major-McKenzie said she is also comforted knowing there will be money to keep teachers in the classrooms around the county.

“It relieved us to some degree,” Major-McKenzie said. “Our first priority is to retain as many teachers as possible.”

State superintendent Dr. Joseph Morton warned the superintendents that the state was still in proration and urged them to carefully spend their funds. However, Morton applauded Riley’s decision to invest the lion’s share of the $730 million of State Fiscal Stabilization Funds from the ARRA in education.

“The state still has a funding crisis. That hasn’t changed,” Morton said. “But now you know why I’m smiling in the face of tragedy.”

Obasohan said if the money is spent wisely, the school system could grow and flourish for years to come. He said he was particularly excited about the potential to improve at-risk and special education programs.

“It allows room for flexibility and innovation,” he said. “This is the first time we’ve had this flexibility.”

Dallas County Schools administrative assistant Don Willingham said programs like the Alabama Reading Initiative and the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative provide crucial learning opportunities for students. He said he would hate to see that progress lost due to a down economy.

“Those programs have really been excellent,” Willingham said. “As much progress as we’ve made, you don’t want the funding issue to ruin that.”

Willingham said he was encouraged by Monday’s presentation. No matter how much money the system receives, he said their budget would be better off than it was in October.

“We would’ve been in a nightmare if we wouldn’t have got some stimulus help,” Willingham said.

Selma City Schools chief financial officer Maria Glover said she was looking forward to learning more information at the April 1 regional meeting in Birmingham.

“There’s a lot of questions that I need answered,” Glover said. “Hopefully, next week it will be a little more outlined.”

Obasohan said he is cautiously optimistic about what the money could do for the system’s budget.

“It’s hard to tell right now,” Obasohan said. “But it’s good news.”