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.

Other local districts

Other local school districts used their Jobs Fund money differently.

The Jobs Fund allocation to the Solana Beach School District was $503,820, which was all used, said SBSD superintendent Leslie Fausset, “to retain seven temporary teaching positions in 2010-2011.”

If not for the Jobs Fund money, Fausset said either the teachers would have been released or programs would have been cut.

The same use was made of Jobs Fund money at the Rancho Santa Fe School District, which has so far received $119,668 of a total entitlement of $132,964.

Denise Stevenson, RSFSD director of finance, said the money was used “to save some positions.” She said it is paying for 2.4 temporary teachers whose jobs would have been in jeopardy had the money not been available. Without the funding, she said teachers would have been released, programs would have been eliminated, or class sizes increased.

“The money received from the Federal Jobs Fund enabled our district to retain teachers that would have been reduced due to the cuts imposed by the decrease in property taxes and the state’s compulsory Basic Aid fair-share contribution,” said RSFSD superintendent Lindy Delaney in an email.

At the San Dieguito Union High School District, associate superintendent of business services Eric Dill said his district was allocated $2,413,491. “We’ve spent $1,800,174 so far – all on teachers’ salaries and associated benefits,” he said. He emphasized that this was not a salary increase or a bonus but was used “to offset the general fund’s general education classroom teacher expense.”

The balance of $613,316 will carry over into 2011-2012 because it’s not yet been received, he explained, saying the money, when received, will be used again for the same purpose.

Of the $1.8 million spent, $1.5 million went to teachers’ salaries and $300,000 paid for benefits that included CalSTRS, Medicare, unemployment and workers’ compensation.

According to Dill, the $1.5 million in Jobs Funds substituted for $1.5 million that would have come from the district’s general fund to pay for salaries, thereby freeing up $1.5 million in unrestricted general fund money and allowing the district to avoid further budget cuts.

“That is what I mean by an offset,” Dill said in an email. “The total expense for certificated salaries didn’t go up or down.”

Without the Jobs Fund, Dill said the district would have had to consider other options to reduce costs – “either eliminate/reduce programs, bring back fewer temporary teachers, raise class sizes, further reduce counselors, make more reductions in non-classroom areas like transportation, athletics, etc. The list of options we had goes on and on, but we didn’t have to go there because we had this funding.”

Dill said the Jobs Fund money was used to maintain programs by offsetting the losses suffered to the general fund from years of reduced education funding by the state. “Since our goal has been to preserve programs, we see the use of the funds as job retention,” he said.

Del Mar’s Job Funds distribution

The Del Mar Union School District, which welcomed three new board members to its five-member board in December, has allocated about $500,000 of its $763,000 in Federal Education Jobs Funds to the employee cash incentive program, about $230,000 to implement a Supplemental Employee Retirement Plan, and the rest to pay for retiree health benefits.

The goal of the federal Jobs Fund was “to save the jobs of current employees,” Asfazadour said. “One of the options available was to offer a retirement incentive which the board of trustees approved based on a recommendation from the superintendent.” The other option embraced by the district was to give employees the one-time cash incentive.

When asked how it was decided by the district to use the Jobs Fund money for a cash incentive, Asfazadour said, “We look at all the revenue receive[d] and determine the best use of the funds. In this case, the decision was made to use one-time money for a one-time stipend.”

He said the $1,000 per employee cash incentive saves employees’ jobs because “it keeps them from potentially leaving the district and looking for other jobs.”

The December 2010 board report states that the $1,000 per employee cash incentive offer, costing a total of $500,000, was presented to the Del Mar California Teachers’ Association union in September 2010 during contract talks.

According to the Dec. 15, 2010 board report, “Representatives of the DMCTA and the DMUSD reached agreement on a MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] during negotiations on September 23, 2010. The MOU was then overwhelmingly ratified by the DMCTA unit members.”

The MOU was not brought forward earlier, Asfazadour said, because the DMCTA had to poll their constituents which took time.

“The direction for use of the funds was made prior to the current board but was approved by them at the December 15, 2010 board meeting,” he said.



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