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Brown tells Board: No RIFs

But Paulsen & Kilbourn say:  Stimulus funds can’t go into operating budget

   King George division Superintendent Candace Brown told Supervisor Cedell Brooks, Jr., and the rest of the county Board of Supervisors last week that no teachers would be laid off next year.
   Brooks’ question and Brown’s answer came at last Tuesday’s meeting of the Board of Supervisors following a detailed presentation by Director of Finance/Deputy County Administrator Donita Harper about the use of federal stimulus funding coming through the state.
   King George is expecting $1,319,038 in stimulus funds for 2009-10, and a like amount for 2010-11, which all must be obligated by September 30, 2011.
 
The question came up when Brown was asked by Brooks about letters she had sent out the previous week to first-year employees saying they might lose their jobs.
  
76 such letters were mailed, saying, “Due to a substantial reduction in state funding, and an anticipated substantial reduction in local funding for the 2009-10 school year, King George Public Schools faces the possible elimination of several positions in our school system.  I regret to inform you that because of this budget crisis, you may not be employed for the next school year (2009-10).”
  
Brown also sent an additional 83 letters to 12-month and 220-day employees saying their positions were safe, but there could be, “a reduction in the number of days worked and consequently at a reduced rate of pay.”
  
~ QUESTION & ANSWER    Brooks specifically inquired of Brown last Tuesday, “Letters went out to teachers, so does this mean that they will not lose their jobs?”
  
Brown responded, “That’s correct.  Ms. Harper is correct.  This is information she and I received.”
  
Chairman Joe Grzeika cautioned, “I’ve been tracking it as well.  And you have to make sure which fund you are discussing.  Each fund is different and has different conditions.  But the stabilization fund is the one we are focused on tonight.”
   Brown stated, “From everything we have, we believe that the stabilization fund can be used for operating expenses.  The caution from the federal government and of course from the state government is - what are you going to do in two years when those funds are gone.  So that’s just something we have to think about.”
   Brown also said to Supervisors of Harper’s presentation, “She’s addressed the maintenance of effort issue, she’s addressed the 90 percent cost.  We think we are okay in those areas and we believe from everything that we’ve been reading that we can use all of those funds for operating costs for the upcoming school year.”
Brown added to Brooks, “So, the answer to you is –we would not be in a situation where we would have to lay off teachers, if in fact we use all of that money.”
   ~ DISCONNECT?    There would seem to be a disconnect between what Brown said to Supervisors and what some members of the School Board and the public say they have heard from her.
   The next evening at a School Board meeting on April 8, Brown described Harper’s presentation to the School as, “a very accurate, comprehensive presentation.” 
   The conversation took a turn after that, with a distinct emphasis on not using stimulus funds in the operating budget.
   School Board member Dennis Paulsen inquired of Brown, “I don’t quite understand how if we add the $1.3M of stimulus funds, when very rightly so, we can’t use those stimulus funds in our operating budget?”
   Brown said, “We can transfer expenditures in our operating budget for next year into the stabilization portion of the stimulus funds.” 
But Brown stressed the following, saying, “There is that continued caution under guiding principles from the state that says ‘make sure you don’t transfer anything into those funds unless there is a plan for sustaining those expenditures at the end of two years when the funds are eliminated’.”
   Brown added, “They also are suggesting that they are spent on one-time cost items, if you will, that goes into the renovation and modernization.  It does state that you can use them to save jobs.  The guidance we’ve received from the state superintendent is that salaries that we put in there should be used for positions that will be eliminated by attrition over the next two years.”
   Paulsen said, “Everything that I’ve read with the stimulus package, everything I’ve seen, everything I’ve read says don’t use it for your operating budget.”
School Board member Payne Kilbourn concurred, saying, “I’ve been talking to Dr. Brown at length about this and really studying this legislation, such as it is.  It’s clearly meant to be stimulative.  It’s meant to be, essentially in addition to most things, although there is some discussion about using it to take care of some teacher salaries and positions and so forth.”
   Kilbourn continued, saying, “But I’m very, very concerned that the county’s perception that we can just plug this wholesale into our budget is very naïve, probably illegal, is going to put Dr. Brown and our accounting people in a real bind, because what they are just doing now is gaming this money, shifting it around, putting labels on it, to try to use it to fill a very large budget deficit that they are handing us.”
   Kilbourn added, “It’s clearly not intended to do with it what they are suggesting we do with it and as I suggested, it might be illegal.”
   Kilbourn is correct in saying it cannot be simply plugged into the budget.  Division central office administrators must develop a spending plan/application for use of the funds, spend it, then get reimbursed.
   ~ PUBLIC COMMENT    During last Tuesday’s meeting of the Board of Supervisors, two members of the public also spoke on the topic during public comment, prior to the presentation. 
   Resident Terri Rinko, mother of three and PTA President at King George Elementary School asked Supervisors to “level-fund the School Board this year.”
   She added, “From what I understand, the recovery stimulus plan we accepted is so full of stipulations and strings attached, it is unrealistic to believe we can use it to fund important school system recurring costs such as returning first-year teachers salaries, benefits, and our participation in such invaluable programs as Head    Start, sports and after-school activities, and the Commonwealth and Chesapeake Bay Governor’s schools.”
Resident Robert Kruger also urged level-funding for the upcoming year, saying that if not granted, three of four special education teachers were facing potential job loss.
   ~ LEVEL FUNDING AND STIMULUS FUNDING REQUESTED    Instead of having to use the federal stimulus money as it was designed to be used, the School Board instead wants the Board of Supervisors to allocate more money in local funding.   
   Brown submitted a revised proposed budget after the stimulus funds were approved by the state, which simply added the $1.3M to the School Board’s request, in addition to $1,676,619 more in local funding than the state says the county needs to provide.
   If the county provided that, then Brown and her central office staff would not have to devise a spending plan and request the federal stimulus funds.  They could use some of it or just leave the federal money on the table. 
   Members of the School Board appear concerned about using any portion of the stimulus funding to go toward the costs for any salaries over the next two years, since the federal funding evaporates in 2011. 
   So, they may decide to simply cut positions next year, instead of using the stimulus funding it as it is designed to be used to stave off cuts for at least two years.   

By Phyllis Cook
Staff Reporter

 

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