First, the good news: North country school officials will start the 2010-11 school year Tuesday knowing they eventually will receive federal funds to help pay teacher salaries. Districts can use the money to either maintain staffing or rehire teachers who have been laid off.
Now the bad news: The money is a temporary fix, and teaching jobs likely will be on the chopping block again next year.
"One of the concerns is that this simply delays what may be the inevitable," Indian River Superintendent James Kettrick said. "Until we really see an upswing in the economy and more funding for school districts is available, there may be a risk for layoffs in schools. But all we can really do now is be thankful for the funding we're getting."
About $607 million in federal funding has been allocated for New York state schools to save and create jobs. School officials have a pretty good idea of how much funding they'll receive, but they aren't sure when it will come through. Schools will not be able to draw down the money until it's appropriated by the state Legislature, said Jonathan D. Burman, state Education Department spokesman.
The education jobs funding likely will be distributed using the state's foundation aid formula, which gives all school districts a base aid amount that increases for needier districts.
THE SCHOOLS' CONUNDRUM
"All of us want to avoid hiring someone and then needing to go back and tell them we can't keep them the following year," Watertown Superintendent Terry N. Fralick said. "That's horrible, and it gives us pause. So it's really important to look out as far as you can in terms of financial resources. It's going to be a big consideration going into the 2011-12 budget season."
Carthage district officials will use the funds to bring back teachers. There were 32 positions cut in the district in the 2010-11 budget. This funding will allow district officials to bring back all six of the elementary teaching positions that were cut and to hire a seventh elementary teacher, which is necessary because of a recent enrollment increase. The district's enrollment is up more than 200 students from this time last year, Superintendent Joseph M. Catanzaro said.
As General Brown district officials wait to see when the funding will be released, they are putting together a list of priorities to propose to the Board of Education, which will decide how the money is spent, District Business Administrator Michele A. Traynor said.
Ogdensburg City School District officials are deciding which jobs or programs to bring back. Recommendations to the Board of Education likely will include a counselor at the middle level, the gifted and talented program teacher, reading teachers and a librarian, Superintendent Timothy M. Vernsey said.
Mr. Vernsey, Mr. Fralick and Gouverneur Superintendent Christine J. LaRose all said they will wait for final allocations and direction from the state before deciding how they will use the money.
South Jefferson and Thousand Islands school officials will use the funding to hire teachers they cut this year. South Jefferson will reinstate one fifth-grade teacher and one third-grade teacher.
Twenty positions were cut at Thousand Islands, and while Superintendent Joseph A. Menard would like to rehire everyone, the funding will allow district officials to bring back only a few of those teachers, he said.
Some north country school districts likely will use the funds to add jobs because they didn't lay off any staff this year. Morristown Superintendent David J. Glover said the district will add a position and a half.
Indian River budgeted to hire 26 new staff members this year because of growth in the district. Since districts will be able to use the federal money during the 2011-12 school year too, Indian River officials are considering saving a large portion of it for next year because federal stimulus funding for schools will dry up after this school year, Mr. Kettrick said.
"Because of some of the growth that's taken place in our district, we're not in the same place as some of the other districts right now," Mr. Kettrick said. "But we will face some of the same funding issues as some of the other districts this year."
In Canton, a portion of the funding will be used to reinstate 1.5 teaching positions this school year. This "much-needed" funding will help offset the loss of stimulus funding, Superintendent William A. Gregory said.
RACE TO MORE FUNDING
New York also was awarded $696 million Aug. 24 for the competitive federal grant program Race to the Top. But when and how those funds are distributed is a little less clear than the education jobs funding.
"The education jobs money is meant to be immediate," said J. Matthew Smith, New York State United Teachers spokesman. "But there is no clear picture with the Race to the Top funding yet. This is over four years, and it won't be an immediate infusion of cash into the classroom."
Districts that choose to participate in Race to the Top now have 90 days to submit statements explaining how they plan to use the money. Once those are submitted, they must be approved at the state and federal levels, and funding will be distributed through the state Education Department's grant process.
Some of the funding will stay at the state level to further Regents reform projects, and $348 million will go to participating school districts and charter schools. Those funds can be used by school officials for new curriculum models, assessments and professional development, according to a state Education Department release.
South Lewis Superintendent Douglas E. Premo said he is afraid the program might cost his district more in manpower to apply for funding and comply with its regulations than it will receive.
"It's a drop in the bucket," Mr. Premo said. "It's not going to impact school districts too much."
Along with the Race to the Top funding come changes that make student performance a bigger factor in evaluating a teacher's performance. For some local school officials, the increased accountability is a positive thing for education.
"It's a huge change from what evaluations looked like before, but I think it's a good change," Mr. Catanzaro of Carthage said. "It will mean looking at each teacher's class and how successful they've been as educators."
Times staff writers Jaegun Lee, Rebecca Madden, Elizabeth Graham and Steve Virkler and Johnson Newspapers staff writers Matt McAllister, Benny Fairchild and Susan Mende contributed to this report.
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