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Stimulus plan for education gets mixed reviews from Perham superintendent

"Grossly disappointed" is how Perham's school superintendent described her initial reaction to early reports on education funding from the federal economic stimulus package.

For Perham--and probably most rural Minnesota schools--the stimulus money targeted for special education could be rejected with a polite "thanks, but no thanks."

Preliminary estimates suggest that Perham qualifies for $358,000 in IDEA special education money from the stimulus package.

New York Mills, meanwhile, would qualify for about $156,000; and Henning $88,000.

"We're not sure what to expect," said Perham Superintendent Tamara Uselman. "But if the money (for special education) does come down, I don't know if we can use it."

Though it is too early to tell exactly how it will evolve, Uselman said the special ed money may be earmarked for rebuilding and adding programs--which will then be unfunded when the federal money dries up in two years. This would likely put local taxpayers and the state on the hook to provide funding to continue the programs. And--if the schools are unable to financially continue the programs--there may be a risk of being fined.

"Budget suicide" is how Uselman described it at the Feb. 23 Perham-Dent School Board meeting.

There is another pool of money that may be coming through the stimulus package that has more promise, believes Uselman.

The Title 1A stimulus money, aimed at improving learning for elementary students, could give local schools budgeting flexibility that may take off some financial pressure.

Under the preliminary stimulus package, it appears Perham-Dent would qualify for $131,000 in Title 1 money.

Still, it is too early to tell how the stimulus program will appear in final form.

"Nobody knows yet; nothing is clear on the stimulus package for education," concluded Uselman.