02/07/11 — Officials eyeing use of stimulus money

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Officials eyeing use of stimulus money

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 7, 2011 1:46 PM

Amid media reports that Wayne County Public Schools' portion of the $380 million in stimulus funding received by the state two years ago is under investigation, officials said today that the money was distributed appropriately.

Ken Derksen, public information officer for the district, said his office has not seen any report indicating the $1.4 million in funding was under scrutiny and in fact, that an earlier audit was favorable.

"We went through the audit last fall and received word back that everything was good," he said. "They looked at both the finance piece and also the program findings. There's been no indication that there's anything out of the ordinary."

Upon further investigation into allegations that the stimulus money, which was distributed among more than 200 school systems and charter schools nearly two years ago, was misused, Derksen notified the News-Argus that there apparently had been a subsequent audit conducted by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. He has not seen that audit, he added.

"It was on their own to look at stimulus funding, dollars targeting Title I students and that services were provided those students and would benefit those only and not the entire district," Derksen said. "DPI just wanted to verify that those dollars were used for Title I students only."

The county might be among school systems that came under question, he speculated, because the district did not opt to use the funding to create positions.

"Looking at Title I, we were looking at how to improve those classes and staff development," he said. "The stimulus dollars could have been used for jobs and that's what a lot of districts used them for. Recognizing that those stimulus dollars were going to end, Wayne County took a different approach.

"Now that those stimulus dollars are running out, those districts are going to be in a bind. We used those stimulus dollars for supplies, staff development training, materials, to help enhance classrooms for those students, helping to improve the quality of education even more for those students."

Derksen said that criteria for how the stimulus dollars could be spent was very clear, and that Wayne County was in line with the specifications.

"We have documentation to back it up (and) our ducks in a row," he said.

Derksen said his office is in communication with DPI and has made requests for more information on the latest audit, but is confident that there have been no infractions.

"We're trying to determine whether this is an ongoing audit," he said. "They're looking at the stimulus dollars, especially for Title I and the exceptional children, that those dollars were used for what they were intended.

"Wayne County used those differently just because the district didn't want to lose those positions after two years. I think at this point, they'll be in contact with our finance office, look at the documentation (and find) that everything is as it should be. They're not asking for any money back, they're just looking at the money being used as it was intended."

Calls to DPI were not returned by presstime.