Volume 22, Number 05 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | June 19 - 25, 2009
Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert
Downtown school officials pored over Lower Manhattan Development Corp. and Fund for Public Schools materials Wednesday. Schools below Houston St. can apply for up to $100,000 worth of school supplies, including $140 for a preserved frog to dissect.
L.M.D.C. puts laptops and frogs on principals’ menus
By Julie Shapiro
It isn’t every day that the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. is referred to as “the cavalry,” but this week Millennium High School principal Robert Rhodes had reason to make the comparison.
To the delight of Rhodes and other Downtown principals, the L.M.D.C. is making good on its three-year-old promise to give out grants to local schools. Under the program, the 51 public schools below Houston St. will each receive up to $100,000 this summer to spend on technology and supplies. The L.M.D.C. unveiled the details of the program in meetings with principals this week.
“I am a very ecstatic principal,” Rhodes said after one of the meetings. “I went in with a wish list, and I came out feeling like everything on the wish list is a possibility.”
Rhodes plans to use the money to upgrade Millennium’s computer, science and photography equipment, and he also wants to buy new furniture to serve his rapidly growing school. The money will be particularly helpful this year, as school budgets are squeezed and Millennium takes on extra students, Rhodes said.
Rhodes first applied for an L.M.D.C. grant three years ago, when the development corporation was giving out $45 million in community enhancement funds. But most schools Downtown didn’t know about the grants, and very few applied. To give more schools a chance, the L.M.D.C. set aside $4.5 million of the community enhancement money in 2007 and said they would run a new, highly publicized application process. That was supposed to take months, but it wound up taking years.
Part of the reason for the delay is that the L.M.D.C. initially tried to funnel the money through the Dept. of Education, which did not work, L.M.D.C. President David Emil said at a recent board meeting. This year, the L.M.D.C. decided to work with the nonprofit Fund for Public Schools instead.
“It’s better late than never,” said Alice Hom, principal of P.S. 124. Three years ago, Hom applied for a grant to redo her gym’s floor, which is made of concrete covered in tile. Hom would still like to use the L.M.D.C. grant money for the gym, and to repair the stage in the auditorium, but those projects are not eligible under the new rules. She will likely use the money for SmartBoards instead.
The new L.M.D.C. grants cover only physical supplies, not capital improvements or staff salaries, said Angela Rossi, director of projects and programs for L.M.D.C. To apply, principals will select the items they want from an online catalogue of approved vendors, cobbling together a shopping list that totals $100,000. The Fund for Public Schools will accept applications from July 2 to Sept. 1, and the sooner principals apply, the sooner they will get the items. The supplies could arrive as early as September and will definitely arrive by the end of the year, Rossi said.
At the meetings with principals this week, the L.M.D.C. handed out a sample form showing what $100,000 can buy. Among other items, one school could get three SmartBoards ($14,400 each), three 37-inch TVs ($890 each), 24 laptops ($1,300 each), two fingerprinting kits ($700 each) to study forensics and 10 preserved frogs for dissection ($140 each).
All the existing public schools below Houston St. are eligible, and the two new schools opening in Lower Manhattan can apply as well. Nancy Harris, principal of the Spruce Street School, which will open with just kindergarten classes this fall, looked both pleased and overwhelmed as she flipped through the application materials.
“We need everything,” she said of her brand-new school.
Some principals said they had hoped for more flexibility in the grants, but the L.M.D.C. has to follow strict federal standards and it can be time-consuming to comply with them. Having the schools order from a menu of items will allow the money to go out as quickly as possible, said Avi Schick, L.M.D.C. chairperson.
Maggie Siena, principal of P.S. 150, said she looked forward to taking time over the summer to pick out the supplies teachers and parents want, likely including technology and gym equipment.
“It’s shopping — it’s fun,” she said.