Monday, April 12, 2010 2:50 AM
With millions of stimulus dollars to spend on disabled students, many school districts are buying tools and technology that will stick around long after the one-time money is gone.
Central Ohio districts have spent about $10 million of the $52million received for disabled students, according to figures from the state auditor. A handful of local districts haven’t reported and aren’t included. Of that spending, the largest share is being used to plug budget holes and pay for special-needs staff in most districts.
“We are encouraging school districts to have assistive-technology devices because it can make such a difference in the lives of children with disabilities,” said Paula Goldberg, executive director of the PACER center in Minnesota, a national group that works with parents and educators of disabled students. “Hiring new staff is not necessarily the way they should be going.”
The Hilliard school district bought wheelchair-accessible playground equipment and a specialized school bus. Fairbanks schools in Union County also bought a handicapped-accessible bus. South-Western’s biggest purchases include listening systems for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, talking word processors for students who learn better by listening, and word-prediction software for children who have difficulty learning spelling and grammar. And Gahanna-Jefferson schools bought interactive whiteboards, books, headsets and special timers for disabled students.
“We wanted things with a lasting life well beyond the funding cycle,” said Rae Harriott-White, who is human resources and curriculum coordinator for Gahanna schools. She has been working with the district’s stimulus purchases.
Not everything schools are buying with stimulus money has high-tech bells and whistles. The clocklike timers that Gahanna bought help
special-needs students who struggle to grasp the concept of time. They’re simple and inexpensive – the district has bought about $500 worth of them for about $20 apiece – but they make a difference for the kids who use them, said Goshen Lane Elementary Principal Chad Reynolds.
“It really helps kids take ownership and budget their time,” he said.
Columbus City Schools now have keyboards and a printer for students who read Braille, a high-tech communication device that helps students with significant disabilities, and special software to aid autistic students.
Columbus received more than $15 million in special-needs stimulus funds. The district, which is the state’s largest with more than 51,000 students, has spent $932,000 of its allotment. South-Western, the state’s sixth-largest district, has $4.6million to spend and has used about $300,000 of it.
Several local districts are using the money for textbooks and software for disabled students. A chunk of the $462,000 Hilliard has spent was for books. Upper Arlington used more than $85,000 of its $1.2 million appropriation on teaching materials for everything from social skills to handwriting.
About $150,000 also has gone to train staff members on working with children with disabilities.
Some districts’ tight budgets have meant that almost their entire stimulus boon has gone to everyday teacher expenses.
“We would have liked to have gotten some assistive technology, but we had other needs that trumped it right now,” Reynoldsburg schools spokeswoman Tricia Moore said. Reynoldsburg has $1.3 million to spend. The district wants to buy more devices and aids for students, though, she said.
“We’ll pursue grants or whatever it takes to make that happen.”