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Local leaders look at stimulus dollars

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By Amy Ryffel-Kragh

Representatives from the Marion County Public School System and Ocala/Marion County Transportation Planning Organization were among the speakers at a recent stimulus plan meeting at Central Florida Community College and sponsored by the Ocala/Marion County Economic Development Corporation. The panel discussed how they plan to spend the government funds once President Barak Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act filters down to Marion County.

Diana Greene, deputy superintendent for Marion County Public School System, was among the panelists at the meeting and spoke about the funds Marion County will receive for education.

The money from the recovery act will be allocated into three different “pots.” Marion County is guaranteed to receive money from two of the three allocations, she explained. But, at the current time, the Sunshine State does not “qualify” for the “stabilization” portion of stimulus money due to specific requirements. Each state must have maintained funding in public education since 2006 in order to be eligible. Greene said Florida’s has been decreasing each year.

However, a waiver has been filed and Greene is confident that it will be granted. If approved, an item at the top of the school district’s list is to rehire about 200 teachers.

On the other hand, the school district funding is guaranteed, falls under the No Child Left Behind Act. The district will receive funds specifically for Title One schools, which are institutions that have a minimum of 40 percent of its students on free or reduced lunch, Greene explained.

Thirty of the 50 schools in the county are considered Title One schools with the majority being elementary schools. Over the next few years, the school system will receive $10 million for Title One schools, Greene said. Presently, they receive approximately $12 million per year. The monies are given to the principal to use as they see fit.

The other “pot” the Marion County Public School System will receive is from the reinvestment act is for the Individuals with Disabilities (IDA). The district currently collects about $9 million annually and expects to receive $10 million additional dollars in the next two years due to the plan.

Jobs

While the school district is trying to save jobs, the CLM Workforce Connection helps those who have already lost their job. Rusty Skinner, CEO of the CLM Workforce Connection, spoke at the meeting and discussed how the stimulus package would help the non profit agency.

The first order of business on the docket would be to assist those who have been directly affected by the slumping economy, he said.

A large portion of the funding would be for “dislocated” workers, said Kathleen Woodring, chief operating officer, in a telephone interview. They have received close to $2 million under the stimulus package for dislocated workers and almost $4 million total.

CLM Workforce Connection, which assists residents in Citrus, Levy and Marion Counties, offers a variety of services for residents. They get people prepared for their next job by offering workshops to get workers refreshed on skills like writing resumes and interviewing. In addition, the business helps people to find jobs through their One Stop Center in Ocala and they also offer training in four career fields including healthcare and criminal justice.

In addition, the upcoming Marion County road projects are a result of the stimulus plan and will also generate additional jobs for local residents. Ocala/Marion County Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) director, Greg Slay, talked about the projects they plan to fund with the stimulus money. The planning organization currently has a list of 20 priority road projects and is anticipating that the first eight will be funded by the act. In order for a project to make the short list, it had to be “shovel ready.” Slay said they plan to spend the stimulus money quickly and “stick our hands out for more.” The TPO expects to get about $10 million for the eight projects.

Other panelists at the meeting included Charles Dassance, president of Central Florida Community College, Lee Niblock, Marion County Administrator, Ocala City Manager, Rick Horst, Rich Mutarelli, executive vice president of Munroe Regional Medical Center, Cynthia Prewitt of Heart of Florida Heath Center, Martha Barnwell regional vice president with Progress Energy and John Konkus, district director for Congressman Cliff Sterns.