Local schools hope for stimulus

Published 12:01 am Saturday, January 31, 2009

The passage of President Barack Obama’s current economic stimulus package could mean more than $4.5 million for the county’s three school systems over the next two years — money that local superintendents say could prevent layoffs in the future.

The plan, which is also referred to as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday. If passed without changes by the Senate, Alabama schools are set to receive $1.01 billion in education funds. That money would be divided based on each school’s enrollment numbers and designated for three areas: increases for Title I-A and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act compliance funding and construction.

Figures compiled by the Alabama Department of Education have the Andalusia City School system set to receive $1.328 million in total.

“I don’t want to talk numbers of positions at this point, but we will have no choice but release some staff if the state does not receive some help,” said ACS superintendent Dr. Beverly McAnulty. “Our 2009 cut amount to this point is $813,000. They are talking about an additional 5 percent reduction in next year’s budget.

“We have already reduced everything we can and will be using our reserves for this year,” she said. “The only way to make up the difference is in personnel. This money will go a long way toward helping us keep our wonderful staff and our programs that are showing such promise in place.”

McAnulty said, in addition to keeping staffing levels at their current rate, there is also an added bonus in the stimulus plan — money for capital improvement projects and for special education.

“The good news in terms of stimulus is that schools would get some construction money for renovations or capital projects,” she said. “This will add to the local economy — materials, labor. If there is going to be economic stimulus, then I think it is good that we can see it locally in terms of real jobs saved and needed work done on facilities for our students. And of course, keeping teachers on staff is good for the economy.”

McAnulty said there are certain services that are mandatory for schools’ special education programs.

“Even in the direst of times we must maintain service,” she said. “Having funds to meet these needs means we will not have to divert other funds to meet our legal responsibilities.”

Covington County Schools would be allocated $2.437 million, if the measure is passed without changes.

Superintendent Sharon Dye said that money will help the system avoid layoffs and prepare for 2010.

“As you know, if the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 passes it would definitely help with the budget cuts we have experienced this fiscal year and will also help for the 2010 fiscal year,” she said. “The most effective use of funds would be to prevent job loss, but at this time we don’t know what flexibility we’ll have in the funds we receive.

“If this stimulus bill doesn’t pass, it will force our system as well as most systems in Alabama to make some very tough decisions regarding cuts that will have to be made,” she said.

It is the same situation for Opp City Schools, which would be allocated more than $860,000 if the stimulus passes.

Superintendent Michael D. Smithart says his system is adopting the mentality of “don’t count your chickens before your eggs are hatched.”

“We are proceeding with our plans with the expectation that we will not receive any additional federal revenue,” he said. “Even if we receive the funds, there are still a number of issues I am still uncertain about.

“I haven’t heard if there are limitations on the use of those funds or if we will have some flexibility to offset potential personnel losses,” he said. “The possibility of receiving the funds is encouraging, because without additional revenue, we are facing a pretty dire situation. That is the last thing we want to do (is lay teachers off), but I would be less than truthful if I said that possibility does not exist.”