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Betsy Combier

Help Us to Continue to Help Others »

The E-Accountability Foundation announces the

'A for Accountability' Award

to those who are willing to whistleblow unjust, misleading, or false actions and claims of the politico-educational complex in order to bring about educational reform in favor of children of all races, intellectual ability and economic status. They ask questions that need to be asked, such as "where is the money?" and "Why does it have to be this way?" and they never give up. These people have withstood adversity and have held those who seem not to believe in honesty, integrity and compassion accountable for their actions. The winners of our "A" work to expose wrong-doing not for themselves, but for others - total strangers - for the "Greater Good"of the community and, by their actions, exemplify courage and self-less passion. They are parent advocates. We salute you.

Winners of the "A":

Johnnie Mae Allen
David Possner
Dee Alpert
Aaron Carr
Harris Lirtzman
Hipolito Colon
Jim Calantjis
Larry Fisher
The Giraffe Project and Giraffe Heroes' Program
Jimmy Kilpatrick and George Scott
Zach Kopplin
Matthew LaClair
Wangari Maathai
Erich Martel
Steve Orel, in memoriam, Interversity, and The World of Opportunity
Marla Ruzicka, in Memoriam
Nancy Swan
Bob Witanek
Peyton Wolcott
[ More Details » ]
Many School Districts Are Not Using Stimulus Money To Re-Hire Teachers
As schools handed out pink slips to teachers this spring, states made a beeline to Washington to plead for money for their ravaged education budgets. But now that the federal government has come through with $10 billion, some of the nation’s biggest school districts are balking at using their share of the money to hire teachers right away.
America is losing ground on providing a free and appropriate public education, statistics show. Perhaps what we need is fiscal oversight of where the money given by the federal government to our nation's schools is going. "Already being done", you say? Look again. Wherever there is money, there is some politician, school/district/regional administrator taking some, and politicians looking the other way when promised re-election votes.

This is not rocket science.

Betsy Combier

August 17, 2010
Given Money, Schools Wait on Rehiring Teachers

As schools handed out pink slips to teachers this spring, states made a beeline to Washington to plead for money for their ravaged education budgets. But now that the federal government has come through with $10 billion, some of the nation’s biggest school districts are balking at using their share of the money to hire teachers right away.

With the economic outlook weakening, they argue that big deficits are looming for the next academic year and that they need to preserve the funds to prevent future layoffs. Los Angeles, for example, is projecting a $280 million budget shortfall next year that could threaten more jobs.

“You’ve got this herculean task to deal with next year’s deficit,” said Lydia L. Ramos, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest after New York City.

“So if there’s a way that you can lessen the blow for next year,” she said, “we feel like it would be responsible to try to do that.”

The district laid off 682 teachers and counselors and about 2,000 support workers this spring and was not sure it would be able to hire any of them back with the stimulus money. The district says it could be forced to cut 4,500 more people next year.

In New York City, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg committed to no teacher layoffs this year in exchange for not offering raises. A spokeswoman said the city’s budget had already taken the federal aid into account.

In New Jersey, where about 3,000 teachers were let go in May, Gov. Chris Christie’s administration worries that the federal aid will only forestall difficult decisions later, and it is unclear how much will be spent immediately.

“It’s a real double-edged sword,” said Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for the governor. “This money will not be there next year, and we’re not going to get back up to the funding that they had previously been used to.”

A $26 billion federal aid package, signed by President Obama on Aug. 10, allocates $10 billion for school districts to retain or rehire teachers, counselors, classroom aides, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and others — with the remainder of the money directed toward health care for the poor, emergency personnel and other state purposes.

The education measure requires states to distribute the money for the current school year, but allows school districts to spend it as late as September 2012. It also allows schools to roll back furlough days. The education department estimates it could salvage about 160,000 jobs.

“We can’t stand by and do nothing while pink slips are given to the men and women who educate our children or keep our communities safe,” President Obama said last week. “That doesn’t make sense.”

Though preserving jobs will be good for the economy, it will disappoint out-of-work teachers and parents who have been expecting a surge in rehiring. Many districts, like Kansas City, Kan., face the likelihood of midyear cuts, and administrators will count themselves lucky to save jobs. In the nation’s fifth-largest district in Clark County in Las Vegas, administrators are eager to hire some teachers, though they wonder what they will do when the federal money runs out.

“We’re a little wary about hiring people if we only have money for a year, but we know that’s the intent of this bill,” said Jeff Weiler, chief financial officer for Clark County schools.

In Texas, Republican Gov. Rick Perry so far has rejected the new federal education dollars. Should he relent, Houston’s superintendent, Terry B. Grier, proposes to use $40 million to $70 million of it to extend the school day and year, and to hire tutors. He does not plan to rehire 414 people — including quite a few certified teachers — laid off from the central office staff.

“We can’t treat this money as if it’s a supplement to a jobs bill,” Mr. Grier said. “I want to put people to work to help children.”

Still other obstacles loom for districts, not the least of which is timing. School has resumed in many districts in struggling states, including Arizona, California and Illinois. Assigning new teachers and juggling classrooms could disrupt students. In California, the budget picture is further clouded by the state’s failure to pass its own budget for the coming year.

Even administrators in districts that start school after Labor Day have only weeks to rearrange class rosters. And with classes largely set in many places, they might more quickly deploy the money by hiring support personnel, like those tutors in Houston.

In Arizona, where most schools opened this month, nonteaching employees are more likely to be recalled. “It would be hard to add teachers this year,” said Paul Senseman, a spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer. “But the funds could be used on any school-level position like counselors, after-school programs, aides, nurses or coaches.”

Teachers’ unions are strongly urging districts to use the money right away to keep class sizes manageable and to reduce the jobless rolls. “The intent is to help districts avert layoffs now,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Kids don’t have a pause button.”

Joelle Beck, a 25-year-old high school English teacher in O’Fallon, Ill., received notice in March that she would be laid off at the end of the school year. She recently was hired to oversee an in-school suspension program for just over half the pay she received as a classroom teacher.

“When the economy first started going downhill,” Ms. Beck said, “I naïvely told my husband, ‘Well, they’re always going to need teachers.’ ”

With the national unemployment rate stuck at 9.5 percent and private sector companies hiring cautiously, local governments are an important source of jobs and consumer spending power.

State and local governments have let go 102,000 more employees than they have added in the last three months, and economists are concerned that with revenue so depressed, school payrolls could shrink more in coming months.

Though grateful for the aid, districts like Los Angeles are worried about how to create some budget stability year to year. In Pomona, Calif., the district has yet to decide whether to hire back about 68 teachers laid off in the spring.

“We’re also looking at a pretty bad budget, so we may decide to hold all or some of the money for the next year,” said Steve Horowitz, assistant superintendent of personnel services at the Pomona Unified School District. He added that the money might be used for bus drivers or custodians, or to roll back five furlough days for teachers.

Administrators in South Florida hope that an economic upturn, particularly in travel and tourism, will help close their future budget gap and are planning to bring back teachers. At the Broward County Public Schools, an operating deficit of at least $145 million is expected next school year.

“Frankly, from my perspective, it’s better to hire them now,” said James F. Notter, superintendent for Broward. Of the 1,300 pink slips to school workers in the spring, about 555 went to teachers. The district has recalled nearly 400 of them and now hopes to use the federal aid to rehire the remaining 155.

Teachers who spent the summer in limbo are painfully aware that at best, the new federal aid may be a temporary lifeline. Latravis Bernard, who was laid off last spring as a physical education teacher at an elementary school in Miramar, Fla., for the second year in a row, is holding out hope he will be recalled.

In the meantime, Mr. Bernard, a 33-year-old father of four, has accepted a post as a special education intern, for half his previous pay, at a different school in the Broward district.

“Even if I get brought back this year,” he said, “what’s going to happen next year? It’s really discouraging.”

Michael Powell contributed reporting.

States not facing teacher layoffs get federal money from education jobs bill anyway
By Chris Moody - The Daily Caller 1:42 AM 08/11/2010

With the passage of a $26 billion aid package Tuesday to help states pay for Medicaid and teacher salaries, most state budgets will get some help in paying for education programs, but states not facing massive teacher layoffs and cutbacks are also set to receive millions in federal money.

The federal government estimates that the bill will save 161,000 teaching jobs, but North Dakota, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alaska and a handful of other states have kept their educational pay rolls full despite the recession, which has drastically lowered government revenues around the country. Since the new bill provides funds based on state population and the number of children in school, these states will receive funds even if their budgets are in the black. This has some employees at state education departments wondering exactly how they will spend all the fresh cash.

Arkansas, for example, has a fully funded teaching staff for the coming year, but the state will still receive up to $91 million for teaching jobs.

“We’ll hopefully put that money to some very good use and be able to further some initiatives here that we’ve been working on,” said Julie Johnson Thompson, director of communication at the Arkansas Department of Education. “I don’t think there will be a lot of new positions created. I’m not sure that we’d need to create new positions with the money because we have not had any funding cutbacks.”

Other state education departments voiced similar concerns with the bill, questioning the practicality of how an infusion of money that will not reach the state until September at the earliest can really make an impact on the immediate semester. Many districts around the country begin their first semesters in late August.

In Alaska for instance, school districts made hiring decisions for teachers last May, and apportioned the children in each class based upon those numbers. Although the teaching jobs are filled, the state will still receive $24 million under the bill, and a state official asserted that it probably would not go to adding new teachers.

“If this money becomes available September 25, it’s not clear to us exactly how districts can use it,” said Eric Fry, a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Education. “What would they do, bring in a teacher a month into the school year and reapportion the kids in the classroom?” Fry added that his questions were merely based on the practicality of the matter, and not intended to deride nor support the measure.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education addressed the issue in a media conference call Tuesday, and explained that school districts not in need of the funds could use them to pay salaries of support staff, tutors, counselors, and on-campus therapists.

“There is a fairly broad spectrum of personnel that money can be used to support,” said Carmel Martin, assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Education. “Often in school districts where the teachers were not laid off, many times districts were able to do that by cutting other critical services. So this money could be used to support some of the service in the form of salaries and compensation of benefits.”

If needed, the bill also allows for schools to use the funds for the next school year and can be used to raise teacher salaries.
Martin explained that the money does not have to go toward a new hire, an option many school districts have rejected given that there would be no more money to pay them once the federal money runs dry. So while the federal infusion of cash to school districts could keep teachers on payrolls, it is unlikely that districts will proactively hire new teachers and staff based on the newly available funds.

“Hiring teachers with money that’s short-lived is probably not the way to go,” said Bonnie Miller, administrative services director at the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction. Her state has not had to face teacher cutbacks and will receive $22 million.

There are also states that are receiving new funds that have not even finished spending the money they received for education from last year’s stimulus bill. Illinois and West Virginia are still holding onto $670 million and $274 million of unspent stimulus money, respectively. Over the next few months Illinois will get another $415 million and West Virginia will collect $55 million for education.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton defended the action in a press briefing Tuesday.

“The vast majority of the stimulus has already been spent,” he said. ”It’s either out the door or it’s allocated to a specific project or it’s going to go out in the form of a tax cut that people are going to get in their paycheck. We don’t think that we should turn any of that around. …We need to build on the progress that we’re making.”

According to the Department of Education, states will be able to apply for the funds allocated to them a few days after President Obama signs the bill into law, which should take place this week.

Email Chris Moody and follow him on Twitter

Gov. Chris Christie calls N.J. students union 'pawns' in teacher layoff protests
Lisa Fleisher,, March 26, 2010, 9:01 PM

Gov. Chris Christie today said students skipping class to protest teacher layoffs were “pawns” of the teachers’ union and should not face disciplinary action.

Dozens of students cut class to protest outside Bridgewater-Raritan High School this morning. In Cliffside Park, students spilled onto the sports field at 9 a.m. today to show they opposed the district’s proposal to cut 25 teachers and 20 other staff members to deal with a $1.8 million, or nearly 40 percent, cut in state aid, according to a report in The Record.

“They’re being used,” Christie said, when asked if students should face consequences. “I don’t blame the kids at all. Those kids are victims. They’re pawns, unfortunately for them.”

Not so, said Steve Baker, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, the state's largest teachers union. Baker said one of the teachers whose job is on the line pleaded with the students over the school's loudspeaker not to walk out.

"Our members didn't encourage this, they didn't plan this, they had nothing to do with it," he said. "This is just another example of the governor tying to play politics with education."

The governor’s 10 percent cut in overall school spending – about $820 million – was distributed so that no district saw more than 5 percent of its total annual budget vanish. While Christie had told school districts to prepare for a 15 percent cut in state aid, many districts ended up seeing 100 percent of aid wiped out.

Though Christie's budget proposal is not final and must be approved by the Democrat-controlled legislature by the end of June, school districts are using his aid figures as a guide when creating budgets that go up for a vote on April 20.

Christie said teachers could avoid layoffs if they reopen their contracts, take pay freezes and pay 1.5 percent of their salary toward their health care. He said students should ask their teachers why they are unwilling to do that.

“They should ask their teachers, if they want to teach free thinking, why they’re in the throes of the dicta from their union, rather than resorting to common sense,” he said. “This is where they abuse their position of trust. Those are our children in that classroom. To be inundated with that type of propaganda – self-serving, self-interested, greedy propaganda – is reprehensible. And they know it.”

Christie repeated his call for the New Jersey Education Association to “open its books,” saying the group was funded with public dollars because its members’ dues come directly from their public salaries.

Baker said the association's books are, in fact open - the non-profit association files a 990 form, the annual IRS report required by tax-exempt organizations that details spending, income and other finances.

And Baker took issue with the governor's characterization of member dues as public dollars.

"Teachers pay those dues out of their salaries," he said. "That is not taxpayer money or public money any more than if he takes his kids to Disneyland, that we would be able to say that the taxpayers are funding a trip for Chris Christie to go to Disneyland."
Cliffside Park Students Speak Up
State workers protest pension bills and budget cuts
Chris Christie on extending the high-income surtax

© 2003 The E-Accountability Foundation