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Jackson schools seek to steer funds to needs
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JEFFERSON — Jackson County School System officials say they are working to better use state funds. The system plans to apply for three waivers to be approved by the state Department of Education, which would allow the system to use the funds where officials feels they are most needed.

At the county board of education work session Dec. 10, the board discussed applying for waivers from the Title 50 rules on class size and funding for student remediation, among other considerations.

"These (waivers) will allow us to apply our funds where we need them the most," Superintendent Shannon Adams said.

Adams added that the waivers will be sent to the state "as soon as possible," and school system officials hope to hear back in the next two to three months.

Class size flexibility

One of the system’s waivers will ask the state to allow more flexibility with the maximum class size rule.

Each grade level has a cap on the number of students in each class, and when class sizes surpass that number, the schools must take some of those extra students and form a new class. A teacher must then be hired to teach the class, a move some school systems can’t afford with their current finances.

Jackson County is no exception — in March, the system implemented a reduction in force plan to eliminate positions and reduce expenses.

Adams said the waiver from this rule will let classrooms
accept a few more students.

Classroom spending

Adams also said the school system will ask for a waiver from the minimum direct classroom expenditures rule, which requires school systems to "spend a minimum of 65 percent of their total operating expenditures on direct classroom expenditures."

The direct classroom expenditures category encompasses several areas, including instructional materials, salaries and benefits for teachers and paraprofessionals and costs for field trips, music and art classes, according to the state department’s Web site.

The rule also stipulates that the funding can’t be used for food services, administration, maintenance and operations, transportation and other services.

In Jackson County’s case, system officials want to apply for a waiver to spend some of that state money on reducing its budget deficit.

"This way, we can have more flexibility where we needed it to reduce the budget shortfalls," Adams said.

At the end of the 2008-2009 school year, Assistant Superintendent for Finance Jeff Sanchez reported that the school system had about a $908,000 deficit.

The system has put a sizable dent in this deficit through its payroll cutbacks, but board of education members still sign and send in a monthly financial report to the state as part of its plan to eliminate the deficit.

Helping low performers

The third waiver the school system plans to submit will allow the system to be more creative with its funding for low-performing students.

The instructional extension rule stipulates that school systems must provide free remediation classes aligned to the curriculum covered in the state standards.

Schools also are expected to design and implement their own remediation classes, and then examine the program’s effectiveness each year to ensure students are truly learning the material in this format.

"We’re doing that (remediation) during school and in post-planning as soon as those test scores come back," Adams said.

The waiver will allow the system to be more flexible with more than $200,000 in state funding for these remediation programs.