Stimulus to reverse cuts to education

Posted Feb. 22, 2009, at 7:39 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The economic stimulus bill signed by President Obama last week already has started to change things for state government, and one big change is that $27.8 million removed from the school funding bottom line has been returned, Gov. John Baldacci said Saturday.

“I had directed the commissioner of education to reverse the cuts to school subsidies that had been put forward in the supplemental budget” in November, Baldacci said. “The $27.8 million will be reversed. I directed her to tell the commission and joint leaders last week and tell the superintendents.”

The original cut would have resulted in an approximately 5 percent reduction to school funding statewide. Locally, that meant school departments faced curtailments amounting to $531,000 in Bangor; $59,000 in Glenburn; $108,000 in Old Town; $89,000 in Orono; $71,000 in Orrington; and $193,000 in SAD 22 in Hampden, according to the state Department of Education’s Web site.

Baldacci’s move returns around $163,000 to the Brewer School Department’s budget, Superintendent Daniel Lee said Sunday.

“This will be helpful,” he said. “It’s great news.”

Brewer school committee Deputy Chairwoman Amanda Bost said Saturday she is relieved to hear the proposed cuts would be reversed.

“That’s good,” she said. “It’s money in the right direction. That will take the pressure off taxpayers or at least not put more [pressure] on.”

Baldacci proposed the school funding reductions as part of his supplemental budget, but as news that the federal stimulus funding would likely pass, he reversed his decision.

“Remember, what they have done is restore the [state education funding] level back to last year’s level,” Lee said. “We were facing flat funding, minus 5 percent. So certainly, if the governor restores the 5 percent that he took away this year, that will be helpful to us. It doesn’t fix our long-term problems, but it certainly is wel-come.”

Education Commissioner Susan Gendron issued a letter on Feb. 18 that states the federal stimulus funding would allow Baldacci to restore the funds, but cautioned educators that “there will be requirements on the use of these [stimulus] funds. I do not have the details, but expect them shortly.”

“For all these reasons, I urge you to learn what you can, but to exercise utmost caution in drawing conclusions about what funds you may receive and what they may be used for,” Gendron states in the letter. “I will continue to provide details as they emerge.”

The money has to be used according to federal rules and guidelines, department spokesman David Connerty-Marin said Sunday.

There actually are two pots of federal stimulus funding coming to Maine, and the first is the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, which will bring in somewhere between $150 million and $160 million. It’s this pot that the $27.8 million will come from, Connerty-Marin said.

“This money includes K-12, higher education and adult education, [and] we don’t know exactly how much will be for K-12,” he said.

The second pot of money “is actually larger and contains several parts” and cannot be used until after July 1, Connerty-Marin said. The exact amount is not known, he said.

The second round of funding has been earmarked for the support of Title 1 programs aimed to help improve academic achievement among disadvantaged students; for school improvement grants, specifically for schools not meeting Adequate Yearly Progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act; and for special education.

Using the second pot of funds to create early childhood education programs is “strongly encouraged,” but not a requirement, Connerty-Marin said.

The commissioner, in her letter, also warned educators that the “stimulus package contains education funds for a two-year period. We must assume that at the end of those two years federal funding will revert to previous levels.”

For this reason, Lee said he will recommend that the Brewer school committee use any additional funds the city gets from the stimulus funding to reduce the local tax burden or for sustainable items such as technology, instead of creating new positions.

“I think a lot of school districts will be very cautious,” he said. “They’ll probably look at their existing staff and realign … and reduce the local amount they have to request from municipalities in these very difficult times.”

Commissioner Gendron’s letter and the curtailment figures may be found at DOE’s Web site: maine.gov/education.

nricker@bangordailynews.net

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