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Stimulus funds may benefit schools

Official says frugality, cash reserve also helps district during downturn

Posted: April 16, 2009 1:12 a.m.
Updated: April 16, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Local school districts could gain access to another pot of federal money as they fight to minimize proposed budget cuts for the 2009-10 fiscal year.

Approximately $4.9 billion of the $8 billion in economic stimulus funds expected to come to California over the next two years are labeled as state fiscal stabilization funds, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell said in a statement.

“The state has three years to spend it to offset potential layoffs and reductions that would occur within school districts as the result of the economic downturn,” Sulphur Springs School District Superintendent Robert Nolet said.

California is expected to receive $3.1 billion in the initial disbursement. From that money, $2.6 billion is expected go toward K-12 programs while the rest goes to the University of California and California State University systems, O’Connell said.

State fiscal stabilization funds are part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which includes Title I funding and IDEA funding, other types of restricted funding local school districts expect to receive.

Title I funding is designated for school districts with a percentage of low-income students while IDEA funding is for school-district special-education programs.

Out of Title I and special-education funding, the fiscal stabilization fund is the biggest pot of money, Nolet said.

But the funding might not be enough to completely offset cuts.

“On the one hand, it’s a great beacon of hope. On the other hand, the downturn has gotten worse,” Nolet said.

Since legislators passed the state budget, an additional $8 billion revenue shortfall has been identified, Nolet said.
Sulphur Springs School District officials are hopeful that Title I and IDEA funding will materialize, despite restrictions on what the money can go toward, Nolet said.

For the fiscal stabilization, “Our greatest hope is that it will offset any additional cuts that we would face going into the 2009-10 year,” Nolet said.

Still, Nolet credits frugal district spending over the last few years, along with building a cash reserve, as reasons why layoffs may be minimized.

“We believe we’ll be able to offset the majority, if not all, of the staffing reductions in the classroom,” Nolet said.

That does not mean the district will be able to offset other staffing reductions for managerial or classified positions, he said.

Newhall School District Superintendent Marc Winger remains cautious about the stabilization funds.

“It’s far too early to count on those funds,” Winger said.

While the money is intended to offset any necessary budget cuts, the money will be available for just two years, Winger said.

The money could go toward staff development efforts and summer school, Winger said.

Unlike funding for IDEA, which is designated for special education programs, and Title I, which is for school districts with a percentage of low-income families, the state has to apply for stabilization funding, Winger said.

A better idea of how much stabilization funding will become available will most likely come in late spring, Winger said.



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