According to New Haven Public School district representatives, $1.7 million of New Haven’s Annual Alliance District Grant went unspent during the last academic year.
The Alliance District Program — a state-run initiative that provides the 30 lowest performing Connecticut school districts with annual grants — awarded NHPS with $12 million during the 2014-2015 academic year. Though the state department reported a $2.6 million underspend in May -— the largest underspend across Connecticut’s school districts — further purchases were made that brought the final amount of leftover grant money to $1.7 million in June, said NHPS Chief Financing Officer Victor De La Paz.
Although NHPS representatives said a $1.7 million underspend is relatively small, they added that their main priority in the coming academic year is to reduce the amount of grant money that goes unspent.
“[$1.7 million is] still a significant amount of money,” De La Paz said. “But it’s 14 percent of our 2015 allocation, which is not really out of line with what carryover should be for a large grant.”
The Department of Education places restrictions on how the 30 districts that receive alliance grant funding can spend their award. School districts can only spend money on specific areas, such as academics. The districts are not allowed to spend their money outside of these restrictions, meaning that grant funding cannot be devoted to expenditures like teacher salaries.
De La Paz said NHPS’ 14 percent carryover was because the schools could not invest those funds in teacher and principal salaries, one of the district’s biggest expenses.
“The alliance grant is explicitly not supposed to cover our cost of operations,” he said. “If it were allowed [to cover operations], there would be no carryover.”
Adriana Joseph, NHPS deputy chief of youth, family and community engagement, said NHPS has several plans in mind to cut the amount of grant money that goes unused. She said the district will invest more in supporting NHPS students, pointing to Mayor Toni Harp’s 10-point plan — an initiative presented Tuesday that aims to improve literacy and technology exposure at schools — as a potential area for investment.
“We’re very cognizant of the fact that we need to have a better plan in place to be able to spend that money down next year,” she said.
Recent data shows that NHPS students underperform on reading tests taken on computers because of their unfamiliarity with the technology, De La Paz said. He added that the district plans to invest in the availability of technology in schools so that they can increase test scores while decreasing the amount of Alliance Grant money that goes unspent.
But De La Paz said having carryover funds at the end of the year is not necessarily a bad thing, since districts are allowed to carry that money over to the next year.
“Instead of rushing to spend [leftover funds] at the end of the year, we just rely on the fact that we’re allowed carryover, and we intend to use those funds this year,” De La Paz said.
Though NHPS has carried over the $1.7 million they did not spend last year to this year’s budget, they may not be afforded this option next year.
The state Department of Education recently proposed a 3 percent cap on the amount of Alliance District grant money that can be carried over, with hopes to enact it in the 2015–16 academic year.
Abbe Smith, director of communications for the state Department of Education, said carryover money should be capped because schools that do not spend the entire grant they are awarded are not accomplishing the improvement plans they laid out at the beginning of the year.
“By capping the carry-forward amount at 3 percent, we can help districts align their spending more closely to their school improvement strategies, thereby having more of an impact on student learning for the current academic year,” Smith said.
The Alliance District program serves over 200,000 students and 410 schools statewide, the state Department of Education reports.