Stimulating the schools

Published 11:59 pm Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Two local school systems are hopeful that Gov. Bob Riley’s proposed education budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year will allow them to save teacher jobs.

Riley’s proposed budget would use federal stimulus discretionary funds to supplant the education budget. This year, school systems have already been forced to make budget cuts due to a 9 percent proration.

Andalusia City Schools Superintendent Dr. Beverly McAnulty said she is optimistic, but the legislative session has 16 days remaining and changes could be made to Riley’s proposed budget.

“It is difficult to comment, because the word is that there may be changes to this budget,” she said. “I do hope the governor keeps his verbal commitment to K-12 to save jobs. We were told in a meeting (with the state superintendent) Monday that they will be changing to student-to-teacher ratios. However, it does not appear to be what we were told earlier — these numbers are really better for us.

“The bottom line is that until the budget passes and someone gives us the final ratios and dollar amount, commenting would really only be tentative, at least on my part.”

Opp City Schools Superintendent Michael Smithart said the federal stimulus money could be useful in the upcoming fiscal year, but that extra funding may not be there in future years. He explained the OCS is getting prepared for any possible outcome in the budget debate.

“Even though there is additional federal money this year, we are still in proration,” he said. “And, we have to prepare for three years from now, when that federal money may not be available. My understanding, and hope, is that the additional federal funds are allocated as ‘other current expenses,’ which would give local districts a lot more flexibility over who can use that money.”

McAnulty said the governor’s proposed budget would be a better-case scenario, but the system will still lose some state funding compared to previous years. She added that three planned retirements at the end of this school year will help ACS keep from having to cut personnel, as the system could choose to simply not fill those three positions.

“We may not be able to cover the state difference and our local (teacher) units with the stimulus funds,” she said. “Our loss could be three, which is much better than the eight to 16 that we were expecting.”

McAnulty, Smithart and other state superintendents attended a meeting Monday in Montgomery with Gov. Riley and state Superintendent Joe Morton. Smithart said it was a productive meeting, where Riley reconfirmed his commitment to helping education.

“It was nice to hear directly from the governor regarding his intentions on the stimulus funds and his commitment to keep money in the classroom,” he said. “We also received a few specifics relative to allowable uses, but we have scheduled regional follow-up meetings next week that should provide a great deal of assistance.”

McAnulty said it is imperative for the state to release the remainder of its Rainy Day fund in order to ensure the financial health of the system. However, she is excited to get the extra unexpected federal funding.

“It is going to be terrific for some of the things we are going to be able to do,” she said. “For example, this is the first time that special education will be funded so well that we won’t be completely stretched to provide some services. We absolutely are going to benefit from the stimulus money if (the government) doesn’t make too many demands that prohibit us from using it on what we need.”