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Monday, October 4, 2010

BIG HEADLINES - small bottom-lines

I want to provide you with an update on the money recently made available to school districts throughout New York by means of two different federal initiatives; the Federal Jobs Act, and the RTTT (Race To The Top). The subject title of this email emerges from my opinion that despite the large amount of money broadcast via news organizations, there is a relatively minor impact on our budget. We are, after all, a small district so our share of the grant money is proportionately small as well. I apologize for sounding like a pessimist, but I don't want anyone to have their hopes raised as a result of what appears to be a massive amount of money pouring from Washington, through Albany, and then to individual districts. Any dream of these funds reducing local taxes are much more likely to actually be a mirage.
Headlines trumpeted the staggering amount of total funds being sent to our state: approximately 600 million dollars in the Job Funds Act and 700 million dollars in the RTTT. Wow, we're in the money, right? Wrong! Both sources contain confining parameters and result in quite modest amounts to local districts. Admittedly, this is far better than nothing.
The Job Funds Act can only be used to attempt to add positions or restore jobs eliminated through the wave of budget cuts that plagued school districts all over the state last June. Consider this an educational oriented economic stimulus plan. There was not nearly enough in this fund to recall all of the teachers that were eliminated by budget cuts last year in Green Island.
The RTTT was received by New York through a competitive grant application directed by the Federal Department of Education at addressing school reform. The intent for these funds is to promote improvement in school achievement. This can be viewed as an instructional stimulus plan.
The money from the Education Job Funds Act ($136,808 for Green Island) is available over a two year period of time. Districts have the option of "rolling over" unused money for use in the following year. We have elected to cautiously use some of the money now, nearly half of the available funds. We added a section of 1st grade to respond to instructional needs of early intervention and, when a Reading teacher voluntarily transferred from Reading to that position, we were able to recall another Reading teacher from the eligibility list of teachers who had been laid off during the last budget cycle. So, we restored one of the three teaching jobs lost in June. That money covers the cost of restoring the job, including salary, benefits, retirement... We then opted to reserve the remaining funds while we monitor the local, state, and national economic indicators to obtain a clearer picture on developing our budget for the next school year. We can use that money to ward off some of the impact on what promises to be another difficult season for school budgets. These funds can not be used to buy supplies and materials, add field trips, or add extra-curricular activities - just for the restoration of positions.
The RTTT money was divided between the state and local education agencies. The State Education Department received roughly half of the money. After dispersing the money through a process similar to Title 1 funding formulas (New York City received almost half of what the state didn't secure) we are scheduled to be the beneficiary of $15,182 extended over a four year period. That's right! If you've done the math, that means we receive an average of $3,800 per year. Our budget is just shy of $7,000,000 so you can see how small this grant money is in comparison. Now, there are opportunities that by engaging in a consortium with BOCES, we may leverage that meager amount into something more - but not very much more. The state will use their share to develop new learning standards, develop new assessments, and provide staff development, among other supportive functions. As part of the state's application in this competitive grant application the teacher and principal evaluation system has to be revised in accordance with a four point rubric (Highly Effective, Effective, Developing, Ineffective) that will spawn new professional development attendant to the new system.
Our RTTT money has to comply with a letter of commitment and generic Scope of Work plan agreed upon last year and signed off by both the district and teachers union. We now must reaffirm our commitment and create a specific Scope of Work strategy within the next few weeks that promotes progress toward academic goals and increased performance levels.
So, there you have it. It may not be what you thought it would, but I wanted you to be informed on these developments. In short, on a local level, the much publicized money has turned out to be a trickle of funds spread out over a two or four year period. Please understand, we remain in a precarious financial position and therefore are not at liberty to entertain some of the interests and desires you may have for people, programs, and practices that require additional money, despite the validity and relevance of these proposals and needs.

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