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El Paso County Colorado District 49

D 49 needs grants to fill the gap

Falcon School District 49 is the second largest district in the state and receives the second lowest amount of funding from the state of Colorado, said Jack Bay, D 49 chief operations officer. That discrepancy has made it necessary for the district to seek other methods of funding to fill in where the state money leaves off, he said.The district has been trying to fill those gaps by applying for and obtaining grants whenever possible, Bay said.Annie Soerensen, grant writer and fund development coordinator, said there are several ways to receive grant money. She said she focuses on discretionary grants, which are competitive grants secured by the district through state, federal or private foundations.Soerensen said that between the discretionary grants and entitlement grants, about one-half of 1 percent of the districtís yearly budget is funded. ìThat amounts to about $4 million, which is a very small portion of the districtís revenue, but thatís pretty standard with school districts,î Soerensen said. ìIn the past decade, school districts have started feeling the punch and started being more aggressive about pursuing competitive grants.îSo far this year, the district has received about $345,000 in discretionary grants, Soerensen said.One of the problems with securing grants is the qualifying criteria a district must meet to apply, she said. ìMany times a district has to qualify based on free and reduced lunch numbers,î Soerensen said. ìOur district does not have high free and reduced lunch numbers, which indicates a higher income level within our district. There are a lot of grants that we just canít compete for.îBay agreed, and said that grants like the Colorado Department of Educationís Building Excellent Schools Today program grants have recently focused their efforts on helping mitigate safety concerns in areas of the state hit last year by immense flooding.ìI was told they (the BEST program) were going to fund mitigation in the areas up north that had suffered from the floods,î Bay said. ìBecause they have limited resources, they felt there was a very compelling issue to eliminate some of the issues those schools had from the floods.îAccording to the website,; BEST grants are given with the focus on helping public schools with capital construction needs, ranging from new roofs to major renovations and new school buildings. The website states that BEST grants come in three versions: BEST Cash grants typically used to fund smaller projects like fire alarms or boiler replacement; BEST Lease-Purchase grants, typically used to fund larger projects like new schools, that are financed but must be repaid; and BEST Emergency grants used for unanticipated events that make all or a significant portion of a building unsafe for the occupants.ìOne requirement for the BEST grant that is somewhat of a negative factor is that we have to put in a matching component,î Bay said. ìThat number is based on the financial ability of the district. With us being the second most sound district, we have to put up $.52 of every dollar for the grants.îBay said the CDE has independently rated each district in the state and has conducted an assessment of the financial strength of each district, which is how D 49 landed its second-place ranking. ìThey said that from a financial aspect, weíre fairly strong,î he said. ìA lot of that is because we have a balanced budget and weíve been financially prudent. We use our money wisely, but we still donít have the money to put up that much because then we wouldnít be financially prudent.ìAt this point in time, weíve chosen not to submit (applications for BEST grants) because we donít have any projects that we felt would be selected. But we are exhausting every opportunity. Weíre going to leave no stone unturned.îBay said BEST grants are extremely competitive because the need is great but the amount of funds available is relatively minimal. Because of this, Bay said he has looked to other grants that are zero-based grants where the district just needs to submit an application and show a need.Bay has applied to the Daniels Fund for a grant to replace the stadium turf with artificial turf at Falcon High School. He said the district should know by the end of May if they received the grant.ìOur grantsí philosophy is to help find funding to take promising programs to the next level of excellence,î Soerensen said. ìOur second primary goal is to develop partnerships with other community organizations that can help us share the demands to support that program.ìItís a small amount in the greater scheme of things. We have an $81 million general fund budget, and weíre talking about $4 million from this whole wide array of grants. It doesnít mean weíre standing still, though.î

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