April 22, 2009

Union, State Ed to monitor how stimulus is spent

Author: Clarisse Butler Banks
Source: New York Teacher

Nearly 280 educators in Rochester city schools are facing layoffs. In the Albany school district, more than 110 positions are on the chopping block. Officials at Wyandanch schools on Long Island have sent out 25 layoff notices to teachers.

And a poll by the state School Boards Association found nearly 70 percent of the 530 school board members responding say state aid is inadequate and staff cuts will be necessary. NYSSBA said more than 6,840 jobs will be lost outside of New York City - not taking into account attrition or retirements.

With several news outlets reporting proposed layoffs, NYSUT issued a reminder to districts: stimulus aid is for saving jobs and improving student achievement.

"The stimulus money allows us to keep teachers teaching, school staff working and students learning," NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi said. "Our students have been reaping the benefits of New York's commitment to education and these funds must be used to maintain that progress."

NYSUT is keeping a close watch over how federal stimulus aid is being spent, ensuring school districts use the funding for its stated purpose.

The State Education Department and SED Commissioner Richard Mills have weighed in as well.

"The law is very clear and specific," Mills said. "The stimulus funds are not for tax relief and not to be saved for another day ... funds must be used to protect jobs and student achievement."

Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association, says that message is not being heard in his Monroe County district.

"Our superintendent is planning to lay off as many as 250 teachers," Urbanski said. "Not only is he not adhering to the intent of the stimulus, he is doing greater harm by increasing class sizes."

SED hosted a Webcast to clarify how districts may use the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding. The stimulus package has four guiding principles:

  • Spend quickly to save and create jobs;

  • Ensure transparency and accountability;

  • Thoughtfully invest one-time funds; and

  • Advance effective reforms.

On April 1, the Obama administration released the first half of the stimulus funds - $44 billion. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said schools will have to account for their use before the second round is released.

Duncan has made it clear he will penalize states that don't comply by withholding future installment payments.