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Federal stimulus may help fund teachers' salaries

Cox: Schools to get money by end of month

POSTED: March 14, 2009 12:41 a.m.

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State school superintendent Kathy Cox told local school districts Friday that some federal stimulus funds can be used to pay teacher salaries.

Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said the general rules and timing of the fund allocations Cox reviewed in Friday’s conference call indicate that some stimulus money can be used toward salaries of high-quality teachers.

Cox said a portion of the state’s stimulus funds will be granted to Georgia school districts by the end of March. School systems must award teacher contracts for next year by April 15.

Cox said the state Department of Education plans to release more guidelines for stimulus spending in the next seven to 10 days.

Dyer said the stimulus funding could help save 10 to 15 teaching jobs in the Gainesville system. But she said the Gainesville school board still plans to announce eight to 10 teacher layoffs at Monday’s board meeting. The pending layoffs come in addition to 11 teachers who were notified this week their contracts will not be renewed due to poor performance.

"What it boils down to is we’re still going to have cuts, it’s just not going to be as bad and as deep as it might have been if we did not have the federal money coming in to stabilize," Dyer said.

Hall County schools Superintendent Will Schofield said the forthcoming stimulus funds would not have saved more teachers’ jobs if his system had prolonged its layoff announcement.

About 100 Hall County teachers were notified March 6 they would not be offered a contract next year. Schofield said declining local and state revenues and stalled enrollment growth led to the cuts.

"This little bit of federal money is an awful small piece of the puzzle, and what we’re seeing on the state level continues to be troubling," Schofield said. "We’re not going to base our strategic plan on the federal stimulus money. We haven’t seen any meaningful change in trend, so we’re going to be very cautious in committing ourselves to long-term expenditures."

Schofield said, however, that instead of using the federal funds for yearlong teacher contracts, they may be used to ease salary cuts across the board.

He said the Hall school board is considering how much it should cut employees’ salaries for next year to reduce expenditures. Schofield said if the board cut 1 percent of the system’s roughly 3,500 salaries, it could save $1.8 million.

Gainesville schools will receive about $1.25 million in federal funds this month, and at least another $750,000 in September for disadvantaged students.

Gerald Boyd, school improvement specialist for Hall County schools, said the system stands to receive about $8 million between the March and September payments.

Dyer said some federal Title I funds marked for disadvantaged students and IDEA funds marked for special education students can help schools retain teachers. To be employed using stimulus funding, teachers must enhance the school for disadvantaged or special education students in addition to delivering high quality classroom instruction.

"We can use the money to employ teachers who have demonstrated high quality and commitment in all of the things we evaluate teachers on," Dyer said. "... And that’s why it’s so important that everyone we have employed has excellent evaluations. We’ve got to demonstrate that we’re using the funding to enhance teacher quality."

Dyer said the idea is to use the money for teachers who add something to a school to benefit disadvantaged or special needs students that was not there before stimulus expenditures.

"Right now, we will be able to keep their job or their position by doing that," she said. "... Right now, keeping their jobs will depend on the quality of their work."

Dyer said teacher evaluations and student performance are key indicators of documented teacher quality. She said if the system were to cut more jobs, teacher performance would be the first assessment.

Cox also informed local superintendents that state education cuts are being held at 3 percent this year due to $145 million in federal funds. Instead of absorbing $374 million in state education cuts midyear, districts will take a $229 million cut.

And for next fiscal year, which begins July 1, school districts will absorb $290 million in state cuts. Before the state added $319 million in federal stabilization funds to its fiscal year 2010 budget, local school districts were bracing for a $609 million cut.

The conference call gave the Gainesville system, one of the state’s few charter school systems, a bit of news it had been hoping for: The state has restored charter school grants.

Dyer said the grant will bring $600,000 to Gainesville schools. The funds are to be spent on startup costs associated with opening a charter school system.



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