news feature
October 14, 2009

 

 

 

Phantom School Districts Tagged for Stimulus Dollars
by Jennifer LaFleur, ProPublica

(Sept. 25, 2009) Hillcrest Rural Schools in north-central Kansas is set to get nearly $7,000 in federal stimulus money to help its disadvantaged students. Only one glitch: The district doesn’t exist anymore. It closed in 2006 when it was merged into another nearby district.

Hillcrest was one of nearly 14,000 school districts or local education agencies nationwide that the U.S. Department of Education reported would get stimulus funds under its Title I program.

But some of those districts are phantoms because they were dissolved or merged.

In Kansas, 11 school districts that no longer exist are on the U.S. Department of Education’s distribution list for stimulus funds. They are set to receive nearly $600,000.

We found these school districts when Kirby Ross, managing editor of the Phillips County Review in Phillipsburg, KS, alerted us that our county-by-county stimulus tracker (www.propublica.org/ion/stimulus) included two districts in his area that didn’t exist. That prompted us to do some more digging.

We checked more states and found that other consolidated or dissolved districts were on the list. In Missouri and Iowa, a handful of closed districts were listed as receiving stimulus funding.

That doesn’t mean stimulus checks will be arriving to empty buildings. In instances where money is allocated to a closed district, it typically is divvied up among the districts where the students now attend.

States must notify the Department of Education when districts are dissolved or merged. We asked the Department of Education why the list of districts receiving stimulus funds included closed districts, but we did not hear back. We’ll let you know when we do.

We’ll update our data once states know how the funds will be redistributed. In the meantime, if you browse our list (http://projects.propublica.org/recovery/ and notice money going to closed districts in your area, please let us know.

Comments

From Kirby Ross Sept. 25, 2009

Sensationalistic mischaracterization?  It’s my opinion that this story fits the bill. The area I publish in has been hit fairly hard by the economic downturn.  In researching a possible article on how stimulus funds are helping turn things around here, I ran across a Propublica article on stimulus spending that had a section entitled “How Much Stimulus Funding is Going to Your County.” It appeared to have two errors, one being that it failed to mention around a quarter of a million dollars coming here to put in a new traffic intersection, and the other being that it listed two defunct school districts as opposed to the single district that they consolidated into. Based on these apparent errors, and seeking to determine just how solid the reporting was on the other stimulus items listed, I contacted Propublica, pointed out the errors, and asked a single question — “What was your methodology?” Not hearing back from Propublica on this issue, I decided not to use their data at all. My “alert” to Propublica pertained to what I perceived as being their possibly faulty methodology, which I hoped to clear up. A simple call to the Kansas Dept. of Education puts to rest Propublica’s sensationalistic (my opinion, others are free to decide for themselves) characterization as to phantom school districts. Propublica, I didn’t receive a letter today that I was expecting from the Post Office — for your encore, how about you blow the lid off of the Phantom Letter Problem with the U.S. Postal Service?

Kirby Ross
Managing Editor

Phillips County Review
Phillipsburg, KS