True story; I had a teacher approach me with a great idea. She said, "Let's get a grant to pay the utility bills in our school so we'll have budget money left for other things." The other things she had in mind were a complete renovation of the teacher's lounge with a flat screen TV, espresso machine and four new computer terminals on an independent network (not routed through the district servers) so we can play video games during our prep time.
I have embellished this story; but no one could be that brainless, right? Wrong. Until you are in the grants world for awhile, you must learn some subtleties along the way. Many grant managers never learn them, destined to flounder through grants-land not understanding why their project applications are never approved. I will try to point out some of the potholes for you so you can save some time.
There are laws in place that protect an unwary school district from misusing funds, either in its regular budget from the city or town, or in grant funded programs. One rule that straddles both is called "supplement, don't supplant". According to the dictionary:
Supplement: something that completes or enhances something else when added to it.
"the handout is a supplement to the official manual"
Supplant: supersede and replace.
"another discovery could supplant the original finding"
In accounting department terms, this means if you receive funds from a private or government agency in the form of a grant, you cannot supplant your regular operating budget with the funds. In the example above, you would be using grant funds to pay for things the city is required to provide in its regular operating budget. It is illegal to supplant with federal funds. For private grants (donations, foundation grants or corporate grants), the use of funds is guided by the rules of the grantor, but generally, you must not supplant with these dollars either.
Utility bills fall squarely in the "regular operating budget" category. Another of these categories is construction. Much to the chagrin of many grant managers, you may not build things with grant funds. This refers to school buildings. In some cases, things like playgrounds and some athletic facilities or a theater arts auditorium can be excluded. This is because a playground "supplements" a regular school community; it is not required for the regular operation of the school. However, in cases like these, be sure to get clearance from the grantor in advance and in writing, just to be sure.
The teacher meant well, she thought that using the grant to pay for utilities would create a "slush fund" from the operating budget with much fewer restrictions on how the dollars could be spent. It falls in that giant vat called "taxpayer dollars", right?
I was lucky, I learned this very early in my career as a grants manager. I worked with a very savvy district business manager who took me under her wing and apprised me of things like that. If the utility bills were to supplement an ongoing city funded project such as an after school program or evening school, would it be ok? No, the buildings must be served by utilities even when the doors are closed for pauses in the regular schedule.
So, just be aware, you may not use grant funds to take the place of services or facilities the city must provide to keep its promise to taxpayers. Keep it simple; just draw a big line in the sand for how you plan to use your grant funds. Supplement, not supplant.
Comment on this blog and tell us your supplanting stories, they can actually be funny. There is no end to peoples' imagination and creativity for this set of rules.