As proposed in the revised superintendent’s school budget, federal stimulus funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of $1,116,339 would be used to restore 9 teaching positions and an assistant principal position that had been eliminated in the previous proposed budget due to concerns about increases in taxes. About $695,000 of the funds are federal grants to states of stabilization funds to reinstate the aid the district had lost due to NY state budget cuts. About $421,500 are additional federal funds under the IDEA (Individuals With Disabilities Act) that have some flexibility regarding permitted uses. (Another $226, 963 is mandated to be used only for IDEA purposes.)
Restoring staff positions certainly feels like a positive outcome – some jobs will be saved and certain class size concerns may be alleviated – at least temporarily. I agree that the state aid/stabilization funds should be used for filling budget gaps and avoiding teacher layoffs (it could finance about 6-7 teachers for a year), as this is consistent with ARRA language about saving jobs, although the funding might not be provided in the future. I am concerned however, about using IDEA funds to restore 3-4 staff positions. The guidance from the U.S. Department of Education has been clear that the IDEA funds are short term – given only for two years – and that the funds should be spent to improve special education and make targeted short-term investments to enhance the educational outcomes for all students. The funds are not to be used for “commitments that are unsustainable” once the federal funding stops.
Economists and government officials warn that the economy will likely not recover quickly. School districts are bracing for large bills for teacher retirement system payments after next year and may face other budget issues (increased tax certiorari, for example).
I understand that our community has clearly communicated that in these troubling economic times, it is difficult for them to incur tax increases in the ranges seen in the past to fund public education. I think it is fair to ask, what would the budget increase and estimated tax impact be following next year using a traditional “rollover” budget approach – assuming, as in the past, that a significant portion of salaries go up in the range of 7-8% and benefit costs rise 10-15%? If the budget about to be adopted represents a careful approach aimed at cutting wherever possible without seriously harming programs, will we be able to avoid such harm next year without a significant change to our educational system’s cost structure? With so much uncertainty and knowing the federal funds are gone after two years, it seems more prudent to use the IDEA funds to invest now for long term system-wide improvements that will better sustain us when the temporary federal funding stops or the need to cut deeper arises, or both.
Cecilia Absher, former member of the Mamaroneck Board of Education 2000-06