Plan will ensure teaching positions, programs continue through next school year

Caesar Rodney School Board approved of a plan to keep 17 education positions through next school year, despite dwindling state and federal money that previously funded them, at its Dec. 21 meeting.

As of next school year, all stimulus federal funding will stop, and CR used part of their money to keep teachers and continue programs. Along with the 17 positions, homebound and substitute funds and more than $500,000 for local payroll were affected by a $2.25 million gap.

Faced with a need to plug that hole, the district is saving money this year as it collects local taxes for reading and math that are matched by the state. In fiscal year 2012, which begins July 1, 2011, those savings will be applied to reading and math positions.

Additional funds that will be used are from the Race to the Top grant and a surprise piece of federal funding that came through at the end of last year.

“We were told right up front, and we knew, this money is not going to keep coming so if you put it in salary you better have a plan when this money ends,” said CR’s Financial Director Ada Carter of the federal funding. “We decided to put it in salary. We would have lost these people long before this year [without it].”

The school board was presented with two options, but only one enabled the district to keep the positions, which made it an easy choice, said school board member David Sechler.

Carter said without planning the situation would be been “devastating” to the district.

“Since 2008, there has been a steady loss of [state] funds. And a net loss, too, because stabilization funds were given by the federal government to offset some of it, but there still was a steady loss,” she said. “The overall effect was a loss every year.”

The big blow was from fiscal year 2008 to fiscal year 2009, and further state cuts were made in the next few years but the loss was mitigated by federal funds, she said.

“It’s a moving target all the time,” Carter said. “You’ve got to be aware and keep your eyes open and your ears open all the time. You can’t just stay in the current year. You have to look out two or three years at least.”

She said she’s not yet sure what will happen the following year, fiscal 2013, which would start July 1, 2012. Another item up in the air is whether CR will have speech pathology services next year.

In addition, the board approved CR’s final fiscal year 2011 budget, which runs from July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2011. The delay is due to the Sept. 30 head count that lets the state know the population of each school in order to allocate money fairly.

The operating budget, which spends more than $83 million, has gotten tighter for the district already this school year, as federal stabilization money was reduced 50% from the previous fiscal year.

The district hasn’t laid off any teachers, and Carter said they’ve dealt with the lighter pockets by reducing some programs and reassigning staff.

Even though a $1 or $2 million shortfall might not seem like much when compared to $83 million in expenditures in the operating budget, she said that the vast majority of the budget has to be spent certain ways by law. Therefore, CR doesn’t have much room to be flexible when programs face state cuts.

For example, driver’s education money can only be spent on driver’s education. Technology tax money only can go for technology, and vocational money has to be spent on state approved vocational classrooms like agricultural, business, photography and keyboarding.

In other business …

n The school board approved the hiring of two new assistant principals at Caesar Rodney High School and Fifer Middle School after the two schools’ population increased more than anticipated.

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