BRADENTON — Just weeks ago, MTI drafting instructor Ralph Vincent thought he’d only have a part-time job this fall — and that meant no health benefits or paid holidays.
In fact, because of budget restraints, the 51-year-old veteran teacher feared he might lose his job.
Federal stimulus money saved his full-time employment — including benefits and time off .
“I could have been unemployed, so I’m very happy. I worked hard to become a teacher,” Vincent said during a break from one of his classes.
The Manatee County School District received about $31.5 million in federal stimulus money this fall, to be spent by Sept. 30, 2011.
The funds have allowed the district to more than double the number of Title I schools and add more employees in the Exceptional Student Education program. But the biggest chunk — more than $14.1 million — is going toward personnel to keep peoples’ jobs afloat, says Jim Drake, district assistant superintendent of finances.
Without the stimulus, as many as 250 teachers could have lost their jobs in the district.
Some of those positions include media specialists, guidance counselors and school psychologists.
Had the money not come in, Superintendent Tim McGonegal said, elective programs such as art, music and physical education could have been axed.
Title I schools, which have a lower social economic status determined by a federal free lunch program, have grown from 10 to 22 this year — from serving 4,000 to 12,371 kids, says Lynn Gillman, district executive director of academics.
“Within the district’s title schools, at least 73 percent of the students are on free or reduced lunch,” she said. “At the high schools, some are at 49 percent. That’s an indication of our community right now. If 49 percent of our students are on free and reduced lunch in two of our largest high schools that’s almost half.”
About $6.3 million in Title I funding allowed secondary schools Bayshore High School, Palmetto High School, Harllee Middle School, Horizons Alternative School and Central High School to be included. And it paid for six reading teachers for remediation classes at all the new secondary schools.
The district will add a reading, math and science coach at both Palmetto and Bayshore high schools. Another addition at those two schools: a graduation coach.
Some Title I schools also got more computers and software, Gillman said.
So far this year, Harllee Middle is the only school that has placed an order for computers. They spent about $70,000, Gillman said.
About $9 million from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act fund goes toward the Exceptional Student Education program, which supports students with disabilities.
Part of that money is to hire four ESE employees at about $62,900 per year, said district ESE Director Ron Russell.
Of them, two will be behavioral specialists and two will be Response to Intervention specialists, who problem-solve for students struggling with mastering school materials.
All four hires will train teachers and administrators on how they do their jobs, in case funding isn’t renewed by the end of September 2011, Russell said.
The stimulus funding also was used to start the AVID program, or Advancement via Individual Determination, Gillman said.
“The program, which starts helping students in the sixth grade, encourages them to get into honor and AP classes so they excel in their high school years,” Gillman said.
Of that money, $60,000 paid for AVID teams of tutors, teachers and administrators. About $15,000 each went to four teams at Buffalo Creek and Lincoln middle schools and Palmetto and Southeast high schools.
The district got about $96,100 from the Equipment Assistant Grant for School Food Authorities.
That money bought two commercial dishwashers at Orange Ridge-Bullock Elementary and Harllee Middle. It also paid for a double-stack oven at Orange Ridge, says Sandra Ford, district director of student nutrition services,
“They were needed,” Ford said.
Almost $436,000 came in for workforce development.Much of it went to MTI to keep many of its instructional staffers like Vincent afloat — something MTI Director Mary Cantrell calls a saving grace.
“Before we learned about stimulus funding, we were afraid we might have to close the drafting program,” Cantrell said. “What’s sad is this money is short term. I don’t know what’s going to happen if the economy doesn’t turn around.”
For now, Vincent, who teaches about 26 students in drafting disciplines including mechanical and architectural, calls the funding a blessing.
“Hopefully, things will start turning around for everybody else, too,” Vincent said.