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Perham-Dent schools allocated $290,000

The Perham-Dent Public School District is expected to receive $290,000 in federal funding to save or create teaching jobs.

"The money is there," Business Manager Kristi Werner said, referring to the $167 million allocated to the state of Minnesota.

Right now, 90 percent of the money is available to school districts, and the remaining 10 percent will be available next school year, Werner explained.

In August, Congress passed an emergency jobs bill with a goal of saving an estimated 2,800 teaching jobs in Minnesota. The state Education Department received $167 million of the $26 billion bill.

Werner discussed what the money could be used for at the regular meeting of the Perham-Dent Board of Education on Oct. 20.

The money can only be used for salaries and benefits for teachers, Werner said. It is one-time money, which can be used in the 2010-11 school year. This means the funding can be stretched into next year, as the state was given 29 months to spend the federal dollars.

The money can be used either to pay existing or new staff, Werner said.

"It can only be spent on salary and benefits of employees that provide school-level educational and related services," she wrote in an e-mail Monday. "It is prohibited to use the money for general administrative expenses or for expenses other than employee compensation."

Superintendent Tamara Uselman stressed that these are "one time only monies."

"The bottom line is that this money will be key to riding out a shortfall from the state," she wrote in an e-mail on Monday. "Thus, we can and will use it to protect class size but because it is one-time money, it doesn't have the longevity to protect class size into the future. We are, however, appreciative of whatever dollars come to the school to educate children."

Werner said she will bring a revised budget to the school board next month with options for the school board on how to spend the money.

"It is given to schools on a reimbursement basis," Werner wrote. "That is, once they have incurred the expense they submit the claim to the Minnesota Department of Education and then receive reimbursement."

Perham-Dent, like many other Minnesota school districts, has growing class sizes due to state budget cuts that have forced the districts to cut teaching staff.

Paul Mueller, vice president of Education Minnesota, the statewide teachers union, pointed to a bigger issue. "This is just a temporary solution," he said. "The fact that such a bill is even necessary points once again to the critical need for Minnesota to fix our state's broken system of education funding. Constant education cuts and accounting shifts by the state force far too many districts to rely on property tax levies to fund their schools."

The legislation also included $16.1 billion in health assistance for states struggling with fiscal crises. It is estimated to create or save 158,000 jobs in law enforcement and the private sector nationwide.

In total, Minnesota will receive $448 million to offset state budget cuts.