Tupelo schools receive funds, seek large grant

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The Tupelo Public School District announced on Tuesday it has received one funding source and is pursuing another.
The 7,500-student school district was approved by the Mississippi Department of Education to issue $4.4 million of low-interest bonds to fund construction. The district applied to receive the federal Qualified School Construction Bond money.
Meanwhile, Superintendent Gearl Loden announced the district is applying for a federal Race to the Top grant that could bring between $10 million and $20 million over four years. Race to the Top grants, which previously have been available to states, are being offered to school districts for the first time. They are awarded by the U.S. Department of Education.
Loden said the district does not yet know how it will spend the construction money. He said district officials will review their long-term construction plan and bring a proposal to the School Board in the near future.
In recent years, Mississippi school districts were able to apply for up to $3 million in QSCB money under the federal stimulus program. Tupelo used money from that program to do several renovations at its high school.
Loden said this money is not related to the stimulus and that it has fewer regulations attached. It is connected to QSCB money that was not used by other districts. Tupelo has 180 days to issue the bonds or it will lose the money.
The Race to the Top grant must be filed by October, Loden said. If Tupelo is successful, it will use that money to expand early-childhood education, to offer dual-enrollment options at the high school and to expand its technology.
That would include offering its current 4-year-old pre-K program to more children and implementing a program in which trainers would help some parents with resources and parenting skills.
Under dual enrollment, seniors and some juniors would be able to take courses for college credit on the Tupelo High School campus, Loden said. The technology expansion would include adding laptops or tablet devices as the district’s MacBook computers need to be replaced.
“As MacBooks get older, we want to ensure we are using taxpayer dollars wisely and that the technology we have is enhancing instruction,” he said.
States applying for Race to the Top money had to agree to certain reforms. However, Loden said that because Mississippi already has submitted an application, Tupelo meets the necessary requirements.
He expects to learn whether the grant request is successful either late this year or early in 2013.
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com