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Local school officials have their own doubts about stimulus

Local school officials say they will be very happy if they receive money from the federal economic stimulus bill working its way through Congress.

However, they don't know yet if state aid will be reduced by an equal amount.

At this point, they are not counting on seeing much, if any, additional funding for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years.

The stimulus bill approved by the U.S. House this week provides $437 million for Title I reading, construction and special education programs in Minnesota over two years.

For schools in the area, the House bill projects payments over two years could range from about $200,000 for the smallest schools in the area to about $2.4 million for Willmar, the largest school.

A separate stimulus package will be considered in the U.S. Senate this week. The two bills will be reconciled, and congressional leaders hope to have a final version ready by mid-February.

However, that won't mean that state school districts will be able to start making plans for the money. Some extra funding would be useful, because nearly all school districts in the area will be making budget cuts for the 2009-10 school year.

The state doesn't provide construction funding, so it's possible that those funds could come straight to school districts, said Jerry Kjergaard, superintendent in Willmar. That probably isn't the case with Title I or special education.

"It's not a done deal until the state decides what they are going to take," he said. "History indicates that they'll take a piece of it."

Yellow Medicine East Superintendent Allen Stoeckman said schools have been warned by their statewide organizations that no one should start spending the money yet because of the uncertainty with state aid.

"We're hoping they're considered separately, so that what the federal government decides to do won't limit what the state government does," Stoeckman said. "It's all kind of up in the air now."