Money will assist local schools

Published 8:59 am Thursday, February 19, 2009

Educators in Bertie, Hertford and Northampton counties believe the money from the $787 billion stimulus package signed into law by President Barack Obama will help local districts.

According to the New York Times, the stimulus package will invest $150 billion in child care centers, school districts and university campuses over the next two years. It will also more than double the Department of Education’s current budget.

The proposed expenditures include school renovation, special education, Head Start and grants to college students.

“First of all, I want to say that I’m glad the stimulus package passed through Congress,” said Hertford County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael G. Basham. “The efforts of Congress and President Obama put us all in a better situation.”

Dr. Basham said the funds that would help Hertford County would be the Title I money and the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) funds that would come to the district.

“It could mean as much as $900,000 next year in additional funding and another $900,000 the following year,” Dr. Basham said. “This is, however, a very fluid situation so those numbers certainly aren’t set in stone.”

The Hertford County superintendent said he believed cutbacks were coming in state funds next year due to the budget crunch and hoped the stimulus funds would help counteract some of that loss.

Dr. Chip Zullinger, superintendent of Bertie County Schools, also noted the IDEA and Title I funds as being significant for his students.

“Obviously carved out in many parts of the stimulus package is help for rural communities, especially those in continual poverty cycles,” Dr. Zullinger said. “Some of the rural money that is coming down is looking for counties with more than 30 years of poverty and that is true for Bertie County and several other counties in the area.

“On the education side, the dollars in Bertie County will be primarily in Title I and special education funding,” he continued. “Preliminary numbers show us about $1.8 million in new dollars, but that has to pass through the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. How that will work out with anticipated state cuts is unclear.”

Dr. Zullinger said another key point for Bertie County is the broadband internet imitative.

“We have a team working on a Golden Leaf proposal for broadband in the works,” he said. “As I have read the package, we’ll be a priority county for that. That could mean tons for our school children – being able to learn at home – and also for economic development for the community.”

As for school renovation and construction, he said the school district would move quickly.

“We’d put a new high school on the table in a heartbeat; even to the point that (Bertie County Manager) Zee Lamb and I have discussed it,” Dr. Zullinger said. “We’re going to potentially be really aggressive around our need. Counties like ours with a low tax base have to wait for these kinds of opportunities to even the playing field.”

In Northampton County, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Eric Bracy said his district would also be aggressive when it came to school repairs. He said the district “definitely has some shovel-ready projects” that might benefit from a piece of the stimulus package.

He was happy to hear about the $2 billion earmarked for Head Start.

“I’m a big proponent of Head Start and any early intervention education programs,” Dr. Bracy said. “I truly applaud President Obama for investing in the state and local levels.”