Galesburg Register-Mail

School officials skeptical of federal funding assistance

Even if money arrives, one-time shot won’t keep staff

Friday, August 13, 2010


The $415 million Illinois school districts will receive from the federal government to help save teachers’ jobs is meant to provide cash-strapped districts some relief.

But while local districts would welcome the assistance, some are skeptical about whether that money will actually materialize, especially since the state still hasn’t made payments from last fiscal year.

President Barack Obama signed a jobs bill into law Tuesday, with $10 billion promised to schools across the country in the Education Jobs Fund. Illinois’s share is expected to save more than 5,000 education jobs.

Money to close budget gaps and rehire teachers would be welcome in Knox County, where 142 positions at four of the county’s five public school districts were pink-slipped in spring. Since then, 18 positions, from full-time teachers to part-time aides, have been rehired. Williamsfield School District 210 is the only district that did not let any teachers or staff go. And according to the Illinois State Board of Education’s Financial Reimbursement Information System, the state owes Knox County schools about $2 million, including the Knox Warren Special Education District.

Some local administrators are optimistic that the federal dollars will help. Abingdon District 217 Superintendent Tami Roskamp said anything to help rehire or at the very least maintain teachers’ jobs would be a relief. That district let go eight teachers and 23 non-certified staff members in March as part of a reduction in force. Since then, about nine staff positions have been reinstated. Roskamp added she would also try to apply some of the money to transportation costs, since the state cut Abingdon’s transportation funds by 42 percent.

Knoxville District 202 Superintendent Stephen Wilder said he’s anxious to learn about the criteria in spending that money, which could take some time. The state Legislature must pass an appropriations bill for that money, which means funds could come when the school year is under way. And districts already have presented their tentative budgets, factoring in for less state aid than previous years.

“Everybody is ready for the school year to start next week,” Wilder said. “To start making any changes at this point, especially with the lack of clarity over how the money can be spent, complicates things. ... I’m just sitting and waiting.”

Knoxville pink-slipped 11 aides, but no teachers. Instead, the district left some teaching positions vacant after teachers retired.

But other administrators are skeptical, like ROWVA District 208 Superintendent Lloyd Little. He said he doesn’t know how much ROWVA would get from the federal money, but whatever money the district did get would be used to supplement current employees’ salaries. The district let 12 teachers and 10 staff members go, but has since reinstated nine teachers.

“I don’t see any new hires, since it would be recurring costs to hire additional staff, and when that (federal) money is gone, we’d still have that responsibility,” he said. “But that’s if the state comes through with it.”

Administrators of the county’s largest district, Galesburg District 205, are even more doubtful any funds will come through. Galesburg pink-slipped 78 positions last school year.

“I have a file cabinet full of promises from the state that are unmet,” said Superintendent Gene Denisar. “As long as that continues, I hesitate to speculate and won’t spend any money until it’s in hand.”

Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Guy Cahill said the district isn’t anticipating “a penny more” than the general state aid it has budgeted for — about $16.4 million.

“If the state Legislature goes back into session and passes a new budget and an appropriation, and the governor signs it over and above that which is currently on the books, and the moneys actually start to flow in a timely manner — then I’ll believe it,” Cahill said. “Until it is in the bank, we have to be overly cautious and even pessimistic.”

State Rep. Don Moffitt, R-Gilson, said he’s not surprised schools are doubting the state.

“They have every right to feel that way,” he said. “I have confidence that this will happen because it’s an act of Congress, but we need to view this as a unique opportunity ... it should not be viewed as having solved the problem.

Moffitt is anticipating a special session with the Legislature to pass an appropriations bill to get the money to districts. He said the state likely will use the state aid formula to determine how much money each district will receive. Durbin said Wednesday the Chicago Public School District will likely receive about $100 million, nearly a quarter of the state’s total allocation.