Del Mar school board addresses concerns over cash incentives decision

By Karen Billing

Staff Writer

In response to some e-mails from parents voicing concern, Del Mar Union School District Board President Comischell Rodriguez requested that the board discuss the allocation of Federal Education Job Funds, approved in December, at its Aug. 24 meeting.

The board voted to use its Federal Education Jobs Funds, which is federal money intended to save or create jobs, to give $1,000 in cash incentives to all employees, amounting to a total of about $500,000.

At the meeting, parent David Wojtkowski said he questioned the board’s rationale in approving the allotment. He said he is always very supportive of teachers but thought that the bonus was “irresponsible in these times.”

On average, there was a 14 percent increase in health insurance costs and the board said money given helped to offset the rising costs.

“I know that you can slice up the dollars a lot of different ways and I looked at every aspect,” Peabody said. “Every board can do it in a lot of different ways. I think what we did was a good thing for the families of the district’s staff to offset those increases in insurance because we have a lot of staff with growing families.”

Peabody said there were 32 staff pregnancies in the district last year and it looks to be the same number this year.

Trustees Doug Perkins and Scott Wooden said their thinking in approving the allocation was that it was a one-time payment versus a payment that would compound year after year.

Perkins said he has pledged to be a “fiscal hawk” and in hard economic times they must look for ways to reduce ongoing expenses and this looked like a way to do that.

Perkins said he is still looking to implement one of the ideas that came out of the Financial Task Force, which is to allow employees to opt-out of insurance to save money—if 5 percent of employees opted out, it would save the district around $250,000.

“I’m very sensitive to the budget and where we’re headed,” Perkins said. “I want to make sure we’re doing the right thing with your money.”

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.