“In California, 16,500 teaching positions could be saved or created by approval of this urgently needed package,” wrote State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell in a recent press release. “This education relief package provides an urgently needed Marshall Plan airlift for our schools.”
House bill H.R. 1586, approved by U.S. Senate, authorizes $10 billion in education funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The one-time funds were created specifically for the rehiring or retention of employees and/or educational services and programs.
In East County, school districts across the board are working out the details as to how they will utilize the money, which is expected to be issued within the next 30 days.
Ken Jacopetti, Byron union school superintendent, hasn’t decided how to use the district’s nearly $300,000 bump, but does favor a three-pronged approach to spending it. “Part of the monies we’ll use at the middle school (Excelsior), where we brought back a teacher this year,” he said. “And we’re currently looking at building back services that directly affect the students, such as a half-time music program at the middle school and possibly bringing back some of the counselors we had to let go.
“Since we can utilize it over the next two years, we’re looking at our deficit spending as well and seeing where the funds can best be used. But we’re happy to have it; anything at this point helps.”
Brentwood Union School District Superintendent Merrill Grant agrees. His district will be receiving approximately $1.5 million in federal funding, and for Grant, the one-time gift provides his district an opportunity to look toward the future.
“What this (funding) allows us to do is look at our multi-year budget challenges and allow us to further mitigate into the future. I think for us, it’s about keeping class size below 30 students and could mean that anywhere between 20 and 30 jobs will not be reduced. I know some folks are using it (the dollars) right now, but for us it’s about looking ahead.”
The Oakley Union School District will be implementing its $836,000 immediately. After a couple of years of cutbacks, layoffs and voluntary furlough days, Superintendent Rick Rogers is looking first off to reward his staff with a 1 percent, one-time pay increase for onsite personnel.
“As a district, we have struggled over the last two years, and teachers and staff have continuously rallied round the flag and made the district function and move forward with what is best for the kids,” said Rogers. “It’s wonderful to be able to give this. We know it’s not much, but at least we can do something to thank them for their loyalty and their professionalism.”
Rogers also plans to bring back to one of the district sites a custodian, a site-technology person, a full-time elementary principal and seven early-literacy paraprofessionals. The teachers union will vote on the 1 percent increase shortly after the fall break, and the other items will be brought to the school board at their next scheduled meeting this month.
Other East County districts will also be receiving and viewing their funding dollars. The Liberty Union High School District is slated for $1,507,560 in federal funding, the Knightsen Elementary School District will receive $96,840, and the Antioch Unified School District – one of the largest in the county – will funnel $3,551,031 into their staff and programs.
Regardless of the amount of the check each district receives, all agree that the timing of the gift is welcome. “It’s a nice shot in the arm, no question,” said Grant. “Anything we get right now is appreciated. We are all looking to turn the corner and not have our budgets continually reduced. And this will certainly help.”