Local school districts are remaining cautious on spending as they await more details about the $496 million in federal stimulus aid that will soon flow into the state.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., on Wednesday unveiled the specific amounts districts are set to receive in the economic recovery act. This money is designed to assist districts — many of which would have had to lay off staff and cut programs without it.
Aid breakdownTo view a district-by-district aid breakdown, click here.
“We have to continue our good schools but the property taxes are too high, the school taxes are too high,” Schumer said in a telephone conference with reporters. “In an economic downturn, to lay off teachers, cut programs or raise taxes would be a very, very bad idea.”
Capital Region schools would receive about $50 million — $14 million in Title I funding for No Child Left Behind costs and $36 million to cover costs for special education, more formally known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Schumer said this money would raise the federal government’s share of special education costs from 17 percent to 27 percent.
This is a two-year plan. Schumer said he hoped that by then, the nation will have recovered from what he called “The Great Recession.”
In addition, the state government will receive a $3.03 billion “stabilization fund” that Schumer said will replace most — if not all — of the aid Gov. David Paterson proposed to cut in his budget. The state is attempting to close a $14 billion budget gap.
New York State United Teachers President Richard Iannuzzi said the union is still crunching the numbers but it believes that the federal dollars would restore at least three-quarters of what the governor was proposing to cut.
Schenectady City School Superintendent Eric Ely was not as sure, saying: “I don’t count on getting the money we were due to get before the governor made the cuts even though that’s what the stimulus package was designed to do.”
The district was to get $3.2 million less in aid under the governor’s plan. The best-case scenario is the district ends up better than it thought, Ely said.
As a high-poverty and high-needs district, Schenectady is set to get $4.85 million in direct aid.
Some school district officials are unsure what strings come with the special education and Title I money and how it would affect their budgeting.
“We don’t know what the parameters are,” said Lynn Macan, superintendent of the Cobleskill-Richmondville School District. “We know that the money is supposed to come over two years, which means it’s not a steady funding stream for us, so we’ll be cautious in its use.”
The district is receiving $639,867. Macan said she understands these funds can supplement but not supplant local spending. In addition, the governor’s budget had proposed cutting school aid by $1,015,000, so program and staff cuts are still on the table.
Gloversville Enlarged School District Superintendent Robert DeLilli agreed that districts need more direction on how to use the money. His district is set to receive a total of $1.38 million.
“What has been reported in the media is this [money] has been designed to save jobs. If you look at the regulations of IDEA, part B, you can’t use it for salary. The same for Title I.”
His district was facing a $1.1 million aid cut in the proposed budget. Its 2009-10 budget is already about $3.5 million more than this year because of contractual increases in salaries, benefits and other costs.
“Those expenses don’t go away and we count on state aid for 70 percent of our budget,” DeLilli said.
The district is trying to work with the union on cost-saving health care measures. It is also trying to conserve energy by lowering the thermostat in buildings and limiting transportation.
He said hopefully the economy improves in the next two years. If it doesn’t, when the stimulus money dries up in the third year, DeLilli said districts could have the rug pulled out from underneath them.
Suburban districts like Shenendehowa have been hit hard by the proposed budget cuts. Because Title I money is distributed based on need, higher poverty districts receive more. Shenendehowa is receiving $2.03 million — only in special education aid and none for No Child Left Behind.
“Regardless of what money comes in from the stimulus, we’re probably still going to be in a position of making cuts,” said spokeswoman Kelly DeFeciani.
She said the district is looking at combining positions, cutting back on supplies and professional development and installing equipment on the computers to make them shut down after a certain period of inactivity.
The district was set to lose $4.7 million in aid under the governor’s plan, so more money is needed.
The Mohonasen Central School District — set to receive $844,052 — is also scrutinizing its budget. It was set to lose $1.5 million under the governor’s plan so it is going through its budget and considering layoffs or not filling vacant positions and looking at energy savings, according to spokeswoman Adrienne Leon.