Obama's jobs bill could be boon for Texas schools

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramSeptember 15, 2011 

President Barack Obama's proposed $25 billion outlay to help modernize 35,000 well-worn public school buildings has left local school officials excited but groping for details.

More than $2 billion is earmarked for Texas schools, part of the $447 billion American Jobs Act of 2011 that Obama outlined in a televised speech last week and submitted to Congress on Monday. It still needs congressional approval.

About 40 percent of the money is earmarked for the 100 largest school districts in the country, including Dallas, Fort Worth, Arlington and 16 other districts in Texas. That money -- based on the number of students living in poverty in those districts -- would be dispatched within 60 days of the bill's enactment, according to White House statements.

Among the school districts that would benefit from the bill, Arlington would receive $39.1 million, Fort Worth $84.9 million and Dallas $191.6 million.

"That would be great news," said Bob Carlisle, Arlington's executive director for plant services. "And I have no idea what we'd do with it yet. That would be a discussion we'd have to get into with all parties involved."

The rest of the construction money would be sent to states, based on their proportion of Title I funding for poor students. The states could dole out the money to other high-need school districts, including those in rural areas.

The bill says generally that uses for the money include emergency repairs and renovations, energy efficiency and technology upgrades, asbestos abatement and upgrades to shared community spaces for adult vocational development.

Specifics are scarce.

Carlisle is in the midst of implementing a five-year, $197.5 million bond program that voters approved in November 2009. Many renovations and refurbishing projects are done, but he's got about $18 million in mechanical and roofing projects planned in the short term and "at least that much more" in similar projects to be done by the end of the bond program.

He's not sure which of his projects might qualify for the federal money. And, for example, would the restriction against "new construction" rule out adding a classroom wing? Could the money be used for projects that already have local bond funding lined up?

"At this point, we're like everyone -- just waiting to see what happens," Texas Education Agency spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said. "It has to go through the whole process first."

Dallas, which is working on a $1.35 billion bond package that residents approved in 2008, could find uses for any extra money, district spokesman Jon Dahlander said.

"There are plenty of opportunities to do more, particularly in terms of modernization," he said. "Close to 75 percent of our schools are more than 40 years old, and the world has changed a lot since they were first built."

To read the complete article, visit www.star-telegram.com.

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