Grant money is a fine thing, local governments are finding in the rebuild after Hurricane Michael and Gulf District Schools continued to make use of two grants last.


The Gulf County School Board, during a special meeting, formally approved the purchase of a fume extractor for the growing welding program at Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School.


That growth, including the purchase of critical equipment such as the extractor, has been fueled by a grant from Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc., the board charged with disbursing the largest chunk of fine money from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.


The grant to build the Wewahitchka welding program is one of several the district has received, having also secured grant funding to expand its agricultural program in Wewahitchka and establish a drone program at both junior-senior high schools.


As Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton noted, the Triumph money allows the district to expand offerings without having to seek the funding from local taxpayers.


The drone and welding programs are also important for providing job opportunities.


“This will help a great segment of our student population to be able to out and get good-paying jobs,” Norton said.


The school board also formally accepted a $1 million grant from the Florida Division of Emergency Management.


County governments recently received $4 million from the DEM for lost revenue due to Hurricane Michael.


That included $1 million for the schools which Norton said will bolster day-to-day operations to fill a hole in the budget created by a loss in student enrollment and the loss in value of the voter-approved supplemental levy.


That levy is earmarked for basic school operations, such as workforce payroll and the like.


Tracks


A long-sought goal of hosting track meets again could be a reality as soon as the next school year.


Giving kudos to the office of State Sen. Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee), Norton reported that FEMA dollars to replace the Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School track will soon be released by the state.


The district had been debating with FEMA about replacing the track, home to over 1,000 law enforcement officers staged after Hurricane Michael and destroyed by that three-week or so stay.


FEMA finally agreed to pick up the cost, about $650,000, but the money is disbursed to the state first before release to the district.


After weeks of waiting, Norton said he had been informed the state had the money in place.


“These are things that otherwise would have to be funded by taxpayers,” Norton said.


While all that was transpiring, the board was moving ahead with replacement of the track at Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School using local capital improvement dollars.


The goal was to have both tracks replaced at the same time by the same company to save some dollars and with the money in place for the Port St. Joe track work at Wewahitchka is “imminent.”


“We are excited about our sports programs having real tracks,” Norton said, adding that many residents also use both tracks.


New hires


Last week the school board also approved two new positions.


One was a paraprofessional for the Wewahitchka Elementary School Bridges program to bring that classroom into state mandated student/teacher ratios.


A second was a transition teacher for business education at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School.