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Area schools finalizing $18.5M in spending

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After finding out that they’d be receiving federal stimulus boosts, McHenry County-area school districts are waiting to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Locally, the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act awarded about $18.46 million to 19 school districts to save and create jobs and improve education for economically disadvantaged youth and students with disabilities.

District officials have spent months fine-tuning their spending plans, some in light of public outcry that those proposals weren’t entirely inclusive of all options or suggestions.

At District 158, for example, a vocal group of parents with special-needs children fought since June for changes to the district’s $1.68 million package. Administrators met them halfway, decreasing the investment of a controversial reading program and increasing staff development and training.

“It looks good to go,” District 158 Special Services Director Cheryl Kalkirtz said of the plan. “We feel like the list is complete.”

Although public feedback might have been less intense at other area districts, officials have kept busy with grant applications and revisions. When each district receives its funds depends on Illinois State Board of Education approval and their payment schedule requests.

“We’re patiently waiting,” said Barbara Kelley, director of pupil personnel services at Carpentersville District 300, which received the largest of total ARRA grant money locally at $5.74 million.

Kelley said most of District 300’s spending plan focused on new technologies, including $500,000 for SMART Boards and some assistive communication devices for children with disabilities.

The federal money will help build a device library at the district.

“We want to at least get a good start on having a range of materials so teachers can check them out on an annual basis,” Kelley said. “We’re at a point where we need to sort of vamp that up.”

An additional $1.5 million will be spent on improving the performance of 3,100 special education students with intervention materials and behavior training. Pay for a Spanish-speaking school psychologist also will be supported under the grant, Kelley added.

“We’re working on decreasing the number of students with special needs, and being able to offer intervention before students are identified,” she said.

Meanwhile, Crystal Lake Elementary District 47 is receiving about $1.92 million total, according to ISBE. About 1,250 students there have Individualized Education Programs.

Director of Special Education Kathy Hinz said administrators were implementing a new early childhood curriculum, as well as hiring two teachers to serve as full-time relief for others who would be trained in Reading Recovery – a strategy for struggling readers.

Like District 300, District 47 also is working to build an assistive technology directory.

“We needed to have more devices on hand,” Hinz said.

About $30,000 has been budgeted for both the devices and new adaptive equipment, while $12,000 from the grant has been spent on autism training for 60 staff members.

Most local districts used a large amount of staff input in creating their spending lists, which will be implemented during the next one or two years. Many – but not all – also favored the legal option to supplant up to 50 percent of their awards to alleviate other struggling budget areas in a tough economy.

Because of areas that needed to be addressed from a recent special education program audit, Woodstock District 200 was unable to use this provision.

“We’re working with training staff to write better transition plans for students as they move from middle to high school, and on to the working world,” said George Oslovich, the district’s assistant superintendent for middle and high school education.

District 200 is receiving $1.91 million in total ARRA monies, most of which will go toward assisting more than 1,000 special-needs students.

A new electronic IEP system at a cost of $160,000 complements the transition plan updates, and will link to student assessments and other information.

“It allows us to track kids on multiple levels,” Oslovich said.

Curriculum alignment also will improve, and about $235,000 will be spent to hire intervention coaches, teacher’s aides and paraprofessionals. Oslovich added that although the initiatives and other staff can be sustained, some of the coaching positions might be temporary.

Still, the stimulus funds accomplished what District 200 had a hard time doing without them – putting new changes in place quickly.

“The stimulus money had really allowed us to move some of these things that are needed to the forefront, to better support kids faster,” Oslovich said.

How much?

The following McHenry County area school districts are finalizing spending plans on these total funding amounts from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act:

• Alden-Hebron District 19 – $117,911

• Cary Elementary District 26 – $805,920

• Carpentersville District 300 – $5,742,658

• Crystal Lake High School District 155 – $1,383,331

• Crystal Lake Elementary District 47 – $1,917,491

• Fox River Grove District 3 – $135,368

• Harrison District 36 – $126,959

• Harvard District 50 – $782,820

• Huntley District 158 – $1,682,569

• Johnsburg District 12 – $549,868

• Marengo Community High School District 154 – $218,207

• Marengo-Union District 165 – $384,854

• McHenry Elementary District 15 – $1,368,267

• McHenry High School District 156 – $591,501

• Nippersink District 2 – $307,520

• Prairie Grove District 46 – $199,371

• Richmond-Burton High School District 157 – $155,385

• Riley District 18 – $75,815

• Woodstock District 200 – $1,912,321

Total: $18,458,136

Source: Illinois State Board of Education

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