Education chief criticizes 'frivolous' requests for funds

| Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011

The state education secretary on Tuesday criticized school districts that didn't compete for millions in federal funding for their low-performing schools.

Some schools' applications also contained what Ron Tomalis called "frivolous" requests. He said one application asked for $1.3 million for more than 2,000 iPads, another for money for a swimming pool, and one school wanted $70,000 for a new auditorium sound system.

"There are far too many Pennsylvania students who are trapped in failing schools, and far too many adults who are unwilling to advocate and pursue meaningful change on their behalf," Tomalis said in a prepared statement.

Education Department spokesman Tim Eller said school districts should have limited their applications to ideas for improving student achievement or enhancing their academic programs.

He said the department would not identify the districts that made requests Tomalis singled out.

Grant money was available to 141 of the state's low-achieving schools. Of the 40 schools that applied, 18 did not meet requirements, he said. Of the 17 schools that re-wrote their applications at the state's behest, it deemed five eligible for money.

Jim Manley, who was acting superintendent in the Sto-Rox School District during the application process, said it's unfair for Tomalis to criticize districts for not applying for funding that would require new policies and procedures that in the long run will cost them money.

Two schools in Sto-Rox were eligible for money, according to the Education Department.

"It's easy to criticize and say you could have gotten these hundreds of thousands of dollars, but what about 2012, 2013• How do you make that up• You hire people, you do programs, and then the money dries up," Manley said.

Woodland Hills School District chose not to apply for funding for the junior high school because three years ago it merged its two junior high schools and would have had to make more changes.

"As far as reorganizing the building again, we did not want to do that," said Norman Catalano, curriculum coordinator for Woodland Hills.

Pittsburgh Public Schools spokeswoman Ebony Pugh said the district didn't apply for funding for five of its six eligible schools because none of the changes the state would have required for them made sense. Also, one school -- Peabody High School -- closed last spring, and two could close in 2012 -- Northview PreK-5 and Murray K-8.

Faison K-5 in Homewood was one of three Western Pennsylvania schools among the 25 statewide awarded a total of $66 million. Faison and Highlands High School each received about $1.3 million, and Beaver Falls High Schools received $3 million.

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