Columbia School Board considers grants to help ease economic downturn

Thursday, March 19, 2009 | 12:08 p.m. CDT; updated 10:43 p.m. CDT, Thursday, March 19, 2009

COLUMBIA — Columbia School Board members are considering how the district could benefit from various federal initiatives aimed at stabilizing the national economy.

At a meeting Thursday morning, board members were presented with two proposals that could bring additional money to the district.

Sally Beth Lyon, chief academic officer for Columbia Public Schools, and a group of teachers and administrators from Smithton Middle School proposed that the district apply for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Grant. Lyon said the federally funded grant is the first opportunity for the district to receive money from the stimulus package.

The grant awards $200,000 to improve technology. One school per district may apply, and a portion of the money must be used for professional development. The budget proposed for the grant requests $174,766 for technology, including laptops for students and teachers, and $24,982 for professional development, according to preliminary estimates.

“It's not just about having the gadget,” Lyon told the board. She said the professional development aspect encourages the use of the new technology by teachers as they incorporate it into their classrooms and curriculum.

Board president Michelle Gadbois asked why Smithton was the school applying for the grant and not other schools that use technology less.

Lyon said that Smithton teachers are already acquainted with technology, they can delve into its application to curriculum, pioneer its use and suggest whether the technology should be “adopted or abandoned” elsewhere in the district.

The board will vote later on whether to apply for the grant.

A proposal to refinance $2.875 million in bonds remaining from a bond issue approved in 2001 was also presented to the board.

Nick Boren, chief operations officer for the district, said federal reductions to interest rates have influenced the bond market, where interest rates have fallen. Boren said the significant decrease in interest rates since 2001 induced the district to consider refinancing the bond.

Boren said refinancing the bond when interest rates are so low is projected to save the district $124,000. He said this money will not affect the operating budget but will impact the district's debt service fund.

The school board authorized the firm Piper Jaffray Cos. to refinance the bond when lower interest rates are available.

The board also discussed the calendar for the 2009-2010 school year, the retirements and resignations of district administrators, and named new elementary school principals.

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