Local school districts allocate millions in federal money differently

By Marsha Sutton

Senior Education Writer

At the first meeting, last December, of the Del Mar Union School District’s newly elected board of trustees, the school board unanimously approved the payment of about $440,000 to district employees from the $763,852 given to the district under the Federal Education Jobs Fund.

The $440,000 was the total cost after $1,000 was given to each full-time employee in the district, including superintendent Jim Peabody, the three assistant superintendents and the district’s eight principals. The $1,000 allotment — described in the Dec. 15, 2010 school board packet as a “one-time employee cash incentive” — was pro-rated for part-time employees.

DMUSD assistant superintendent of human resource services Tim Asfazadour called it “a one-time stipend” and said it was “to offset the increased cost of health benefits.”

Asfazadour said the district employs about 300 full-time and 300 part-time people, 21 of whom work at the district office rather than a school site. Because one condition of the Federal Education Jobs Fund is that the money can only be spent on school site personnel, the 21 district office employees received their money, totaling about $21,000, from the general fund, he said.

Cathy Birks, DMUSD assistant superintendent of business services, said that, in addition to the $440,000 distributed to employees, about $60,000 more was paid for fringe benefits such as unemployment, social security, workers’ compensation, Medicare, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), and other labor costs. This brings the total cost for the cash incentive program to about $500,000, all of which was paid from the Federal Education Jobs Fund.

The federal government allocated about $1.2 billion in Jobs Fund money to California school districts, the purpose of which, according to a fact sheet distributed by the California Department of Education, is “to save or create an estimated 16,500 kindergarten through grade twelve (K-12) jobs.”

The federal money was given to all school districts in the nation, and U.S. Department of Education guidelines offer a number of options for spending the money, which is to be used “only for compensation and benefits and other expenses, such as support services necessary to retain existing employees, to recall or rehire former employees, and to hire new employees, in order to provide early childhood, elementary or secondary educational and related services.”

According to the Calif. Dept. of Education, “This includes salaries, performance bonuses, health insurance, retirement benefits, incentives for early retirement, pension fund contributions, tuition reimbursement, student loan repayment assistance, transportation subsidies, and reimbursement for child care expenses. Funds may be used to restore reductions in salaries and benefits or to implement increases. They may also be used to eliminate furlough days.”

The funds may also be spent on employees other than teachers who provide support services at school sites. But the money cannot be used for “administrative expenditures related to the operation of the superintendent’s office,” board members, fiscal services or human resources.

The money allocated to each district, which is based generally on enrollment figures, is intended to be used in the 2010-2011 school year, but unspent money can be carried over one more year as long as it is all obligated by September 30, 2012.

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