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School thanks voters for new ELA textbooks
While school districts reel from the loss of money for textbooks from the state, Mustang students will be using new English language arts textbooks for the 2016-2017 school year. Textbooks were included as an item on the February 2016 bond issue.

Superintendent Dr. Sean McDaniel said Mustang students will have their 10 or 12- year-old English and reading books replaced thanks to the voters.

"There are no words - and I mean this genuinely - there are no words that can adequately express our appreciation to our community for their support," he said. "Had our patrons not made the personal decisions, each one of them, to go to the polls and vote, we would have done without. We would have been using books that are antiquated, outdated, and tattered, but because they got in their vehicles and drove to their precincts and voted, we get to buy new textbooks for our students."

As the legislative session drew to a close, districts were told they were being "held harmless," meaning they would receive the same amount of state aid as they did last year. With state aid, money for education is put through a complicated formula that takes a school's specific needs into account, from student population to the number of students in special education. However, if the legislature does not allocate enough funding to the state aid formula, the funding does not meet a school's specific needs. In addition to state aid, schools then receive money for several line items like textbooks where it's a simple 1 to 1 ratio. Each district gets $55 for every student to purchase textbooks. For Mustang, that amounts to around $560,000.

McDaniel said what schools did not know was that the $38 million that would be distributed to school districts across the state for textbooks was run through the state aid funding formula to fill a $38 million deficit, leaving nothing for textbooks.

"The shock was after we get through the session, we are told we are held harmless and then we find out we are losing $38 million," he said. "Schools have not been 'held harmless.' If the money is taken back out and given to us as our regular line item, then the state is short $38 million on the formula side."

McDaniel said loss of the textbook money was only a portion of the cuts schools were hit with two weeks ago. Eleven other line items, like money for alternative education and professional development, were cut or eliminated.

"In a 72 hour period, we literally lost $560,000 in textbook funds, $200,000 in line items for next year and an additional $230,000 in state aid for this fiscal year which ends June 30. So when the state sends us our June payment this month, it's $230,000 less than what we expected. Mustang Public Schools was cut $990,000 in three days," McDaniel said.

McDaniel said including textbook money in the bond issue has made a difference that is difficult to quantify.

"Our board had the foresight to include textbooks in the bond issue. It was great planning. Very well thought out," he said. "It's not that we knew there was going to be a loss of textbook funds. We didn't. However we did know we were in dire straights with the state's revenue crisis, and we could use bond dollars to provide textbooks."

While the scenario worked out well for Mustang Schools, the $560,000 loss of textbook money will still hurt.

"How could it not? It was money the district had been counting on," he said. 

While the bond money will also provide some but not all the money needed for next year's math book adoption, English and reading teachers are celebrating. On June 7 and 8, more than120 Mustang kindergarten through fourth-grade teachers volunteered their time without pay to attend training on the new English language arts textbooks. They learned about the instructional resources provided with the textbooks, the technology component and how it will help with assessment and student engagement.

McDaniel said not every district is blessed to have teachers who will give up their summer days with no compensation for training.

"I'm not shocked or surprised," he said. "It's just another example of why Mustang is Mustang."