Archived Story

Recovery funds a lifesaver for local schools

Published 10:38am Thursday, January 14, 2010

By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star

At a meeting of the Brandywine Board of Education Monday night, a preview of the district’s first budget amendment was presented to board members.

Not surprisingly, the amendment revealed a shortfall, the result of state funding reductions affecting districts across the state.

Originally adopted in June, the budget had been projecting revenues of close to $11.9 million with expenses expected of a little more than $12 million – resulting in a $255,000 shortfall.
A poor economy and the aforementioned reductions have led to a deficit for the district almost double what it expected.

The amendment shows that though the district stuck to close to $11.9 million in revenue, its expenses increased to $12.3 million, largely due to a second wave of state budget cuts – putting the difference at more than $448,000.

One way this school district is trying to make up the difference, putting money where reductions have left dents in finances, is by using portions of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds to keep from having to consider eliminating teacher positions.

Brandywine split special education related Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Title 1 funds between funding programs related to those specific areas and teacher salaries.
“With the stimulus money they (funds) are saving their jobs,” Sue Furney, finance director for the Brandywine school district, said Wednesday.

Of the $216,000 received for special education IDEA purposes through the grant, “$109,000 is being used to save 1.75 teachers,” Furney said. Those teachers are special education teachers.
The funds for their salaries would have been pulled from the general fund.
“If we had not gotten the special education IDEA funds, we would have had to cut – probably would have had to cut teachers,” Furney said. “I can’t say that we would have because we didn’t have that discussion with the board.

“With the reductions from the state, it caused us to go deeper into deficit,” she said. “So without this money, we would have gone further into deficit by $109,000.

Which begs the question – are ARRA grant funds which seemed to be intended to plump up school district programs and opportunities really just working to keep those districts afloat?
It is hard to say in some states – but it would seem so in Michigan.

“The original plan was, this is how much you’ll get, lets sit down and figure out how we can use it,” Furney said.

With the Title 1 and IDEA funding were guidelines that stated 50 percent of monies received could be used for staffing.

According to an August 2009 survey from the American Association of School Administrators, before round two of budget cuts hit Michigan schools, public school districts nationwide were already somewhat dejected about how effective the help would actually be.

“While school systems around the nations appreciate the opportunity the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding represents, a lack of flexibility in the funding and the use of the money to backfill federal, state and local budget holes have limited the ability of districts to implement innovative reforms and changes,” the report stated.

Restrictions on the grant funds are also limiting school officials’ ability to limit damage.
“School districts across the country, following one of the major goals of the stimulus dollars, are using the one-time funds to save teaching and staff positions,” the AASA said in the report. “However, less than half of respondents reported being able to save core subject teaching positions as a result of AARA dollars.”

Michigan state legislators are back at it again, working to fix the state’s economy and try to find ways to relieve pressure on local schools.

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