Consolidating Funds in Schoolwides: Is It Worth It?

January 6, 2012 | By Guest Contributor | Post a Comment

(This guest post originally appeared on Title I-Derland, Thompson’s blog on federal K-12 education and was written by Nancy Connor, director of federal programs for the Denver Public Schools.) One of the more puzzling “flexibilities” available under the ESEA is the option to consolidate state, local and federal funds in schoolwide Title I schools.

Consolidating services and programs is sensible — it is a great relief to be able to ignore programmatic silos and serve all kids without worrying about whether this kid is “Title I-eligible” or that kid is “Title III-eligible.” But actually consolidating funds is so rule-bound and tricky that I occasionally wonder why the option exists and why anyone would actually choose to do it. At a national conference, I once voiced the opinion that consolidation was a potential accounting nightmare. I’m not sure I’ve changed my mind, but my district has embraced the concept, and we are planning to implement consolidation next school year.

Federal guidance offers three options for consolidation. Denver is planning ultimately to implement full consolidation, but the federal funds that will be consolidated will be limited to Titles I and II at least during the first year. It doesn’t seem too hard to document how we met the “intents and purposes” of those grants in the schoolwide plans, which is the prime criterion for putting the funds into one pot.

For accounting and fund request purposes, the recommended method of reporting draw-downs is pretty straightforward. You simply assign a percentage of each drawdown identical to the percentage of the school’s budget contributed by the grant: “percent of money in, percent of money out.” Calculating carryover as a percent of unspent funds in individual school budgets … also not difficult.

So what’s the problem? I remain a skeptic because, as always when dealing with federal funds, the devil is in the details — and there are many. School budgets are not nearly as straightforward as they seem to outsiders. If schools have been asked to save general fund money in previous years to mitigate potential state budget cuts, should those carry-forward funds be included in the consolidation? How should allocation adjustments for enrollment in the fall be handled? If schools budget on average salaries but the “percent in-percent out” calculations are based on actual expenses, should the Title I percent be adjusted to reflect the change? We have been counseled to consult with our auditors on any plan to address these issues so that they are comfortable we will meet all of the A-133 audit requirements. It is a little daunting. I think that schools will like it because they will not see all of this behind-the-scenes work, but the district compliance folks are nervous.

The piece that I find most puzzling is the supplement/not supplant rule requiring that consolidating districts demonstrate that schools receive adequate local resources to fully run the school. This demonstration has to include calculations on heat and lights, security, and other non-instructional supports that schools need to stay open. What is missing is a template of just what has to be included. I wonder how many districts actually calculate how much money it takes to fully run individual schools. Is there a standard that we are supposed to meet? Do we compare Title I to non-Title I schools? I’m not certain, and I haven’t seen a roadmap.

I’m sure we will figure it all out somehow. Undoubtedly, it will turn out to be like many other things … ugly to set up, but reasonably easy to implement. Meanwhile, planning for consolidation is like a putting together a jigsaw puzzle without the picture on the box.

Photo Credit: Horia Varlan


Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *