Tracking the Stimulus: One Year Later

Day Four
Investing in education: Local schools use $8.5 million to add positions, new learning tools
MARCH 3, 2010
Federal stimulus dollars have paid for an autistic support teacher in State College, Promethean whiteboards in Philipsburg-Osceola and reading intervention programs in Bald Eagle Area, Bellefonte and Penns Valley schools.
All told, Centre County school districts will receive at least $8.5 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and possibly millions more, depending on how state budget negotiations turn out. Gov. Ed Rendell is proposing to increase basic education funding in 2010-11 by 6.4 percent, or $354.8 million, to be paid with a combination of state and federal dollars.
But those millions come with a catch, educators say.
“It’s money that’s here today and gone tomorrow,” said Penns Valley Superintendent Brian Griffith. “So whenever we spend money, we need to make sure that we’re not creating, for the school district, future obligations.”
So Penns Valley avoided what State College did — paying for new staff with stimulus dollars. State College Superintendent Richard Mextorf said the district had been planning on hiring an autistic support teacher and two paraprofessionals anyway. The stimulus funding will pay the $150,298 needed to cover salaries and benefits for those three positions from September 2009 through June 2011.
After that, State College is on the hook.
“We’ll be committed to providing the best quality services for those children with our own dollars,” said Mextorf. “They’re our kids, and they deserve that program. We were just thankful to get that little patch on the roof, through the stimulus dollars, to help us limp along during this recession.”
Day One.
Big Spenders: What have federal dollars done for Centre County?
SUNDAY, FEB. 28, 2010
Each month, Governors Gate Associates receives funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development through the Section 8 rental assistance program.
In September, the company, which operates a 66-unit low income housing residence in Bellefonte, was surprised to get an e-mail saying it had received money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, more commonly known as the stimulus fund.
“We got an e-mail that said I needed to fill out this huge report,” said Sue Wall, who manages the company’s finances. “And I was like: ‘We got money?’ “
Wall said that at first she thought it was a prank, or maybe an error. After all, the company had not applied for any stimulus money.
Nor, she said, had it received any government funding aside from its regular monthly subsidy.
“My first question was: ‘How do I know that we actually received stimulus funds?’ ” Wall said. “So I called HUD and they said: ‘Yep, you guys got recovery money.’ “
It turned out that for one month HUD, which pays Governor’s Gate a Section 8 rental assistance payment, used its pot of stimulus money to fund that regular monthly payment.
Governors Gate is one of several firms in the county — and hundreds in the state — that have received federal stimulus dollars through a program designed to prop up a frail economy.
Supporters of the program sold it to the public as a way to create or retain jobs. In the Governors Gate case, no jobs were affected. Other organizations and businesses in Centre County that receive stimulus money say they’ve documented the number of jobs saved or created, a number that is still growing as stimulus money is spent.
As Wall’s experience shows, the stimulus program is, at best, a confusing web of projects and federal dollars. One year later, it may still be impossible to say whether the program has been a success, even as Congress debates a second jobs bill.
This week, the Centre Daily Times will explore the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and its effect on Centre County.

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