Federal money won’t solve budget problem

Published 8:10 pm Saturday, April 11, 2009

Over the last few weeks, much has been said about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and how it might impact Suffolk Public Schools. As Superintendent, I would like to take this opportunity to provide for you some further details on the use of federal stimulus dollars.

First, the number $12.9 million has been used most often in discussions on stimulus money available to Suffolk Public Schools. We have been hesitant to include these dollars in the school division’s proposed 2009­2010 operating budget until guidance documents were provided. While this hesitation results in modifications in succeeding editions of the budget, it is proving to be the most prudent course.

Recent efforts to confirm the uses of these funds revealed that the actual amount available is approximately $10,452,000. The original proposal for $2.7 million in school construction funds never materialized.

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Additionally, much less has been said regarding the following, all of which significantly restrict the use of those funds:

4$4.9 million is being provided to offset $6.1 million in cuts in state aid to Suffolk Public Schools. The primary focus of these funds was to prevent job loss. After that is accomplished, the remaining funds maybe applied to other educational expenses.

4$2.7 million of the stimulus funds were designated for school construction, available in year one only, which focused on renovation, repair and modernization. Again, these monies WERE NEVER APPROVED.

4$2.1 million in Title I funds are being provided. These funds are designed for use according to existing Title I guidelines. This means the funds may be used only in Title I schools and must supplement, but not supplant, state and local dollars. Even the most recent guidance document warns that the designated amount will be reduced when certain state requirements are withheld.

4$3.4 million in IDEA funds are being provided. These funds may be used only for prescribed special education uses. An equipment exemption may allow the purchase of specially equipped school buses.

Both IDEA and Title I funds under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act are spread over two years (while school construction funds were proposed for year one only). Both Title I and IDEA funds represent maximum available amounts. Unless qualifying expenditures are identified and approved, the amount accessed and expended will be less than the maximum.

Again, one of the most important points is that these funds are for the next two years only. They cannot be used for expenses that continue beyond year two. In fact, the School Board and staff will begin planning for permanent reductions as soon as this budget process is complete. Plans will be developed to reduce expenditures over the next two years, as federal stimulus monies are not expected to be available beyond that time.

The initial amount of the reduction strategy was $6.1 million. In addition, the city manager has proposed a $3.5 million local funding cut. If City Council agrees, that changes the targeted reduction to $9.6 million for the two-year term. Given the increased size of the targeted reduction, it will be necessary to implement all of the previously proposed cuts (including the elimination of 105 positions).

It might also be necessary to identify another $3.5 million in local reductions over the next two years.

It is within these parameters that the School Board is currently working. As a result of the new ARRA information, the School Board on April 9 unanimously approved a revision to its previously approved budget, adding $2.8 million to the School Grants Fund. This increase represents federal stimulus funding and will be added to the “instructional” state classification. This additional funding includes the anticipated first-year ARRA funds for Title I in the amount of $1.1 million and the anticipated first-year ARRA funds for IDEA (special education) in the amount of $1.7 million.

The process has been time­ consuming, as the school division works to ensure these earmarked federal stimulus funds are properly considered. It should be noted again that these funds will only provide Suffolk Public Schools with more time to decide how to best make the spending cuts that will be necessary when the two years of ARRA funding are over.

The School Board plans to begin detailed conversations to assess where consolidations of duties, programs and facilities can provide savings.

Thank you for your continued interest in Suffolk Public Schools.