NEWCOMB — The Central Consolidated School District has applied for a waiver to use about $240,600 in unspent federal grant money originally allocated for Newcomb High and Naschitti Elementary schools to fund programs usually covered by the district's general budget.

While district officials claimed that the New Mexico Public Education Department had already approved the waiver, education department officials said they have not yet done so.

Department officials would not comment on whether the waiver was out of the ordinary or on how many districts were applying for waivers to collect remaining grant money from their schools. They did say that they had asked the U.S. Department of Education for its opinion on the requested waiver.

"Prior to (New Mexico Public Education Department) making a determination on the waiver request, we have to wait for the approval of the (U.S. Department of Education) of the waiver request, and we have not yet received their response," said Aimee Barabe, the state department's director of strategic outreach.

The grants awarded to Newcomb High and Naschitti Elementary were school improvement grants, which go to schools that demonstrate the greatest need for improvement.

At the end of this school year, both schools had remaining funds. Newcomb High School had about $138,600, and Naschitti Elementary School was left with about $102,000.

The district is hoping to use those funds for summer school, professional development, community involvement and school supplies, according to school district spokesman James Preminger.

"The district does not receive any federal grant money upfront," Preminger said, explaining that once a grant is awarded, the district must use reserve funds, show that the funds were spent in compliance with the grant and then apply for reimbursement.

"If we use reserve funds for something else, we will not be reimbursed for them through the grant," Preminger said.

The district's waiver request, however, has not yet been approved by the state or the federal department of education.

Federal department of education officials said that they were still looking at the waiver.

If approved, the district would be allowed to use the remaining grant money as requested.

The district has struggled recently to balance and handle its budget, and it has gotten heat for the process from community members and district employees during public meetings.

The district is holding its monthly meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the Kirtland Board Room in Kirtland. It is open to the public.

Jenny Kane covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and jkane@daily-times.com. Follow him @Jenny_Kane on Twitter.