E.V. school districts hold onto stimulus funds as budget cuts loom - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Education News

E.V. school districts hold onto stimulus funds as budget cuts loom

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Posted: Monday, November 15, 2010 12:30 pm | Updated: 1:08 pm, Wed Nov 24, 2010.

Arizona school districts learned last week how much they have coming from federal stimulus funding.

But most East Valley school districts aren’t planning new spending.

Arizona public district and charter schools are set to receive more than $207 million over the next two years under the latest stimulus spending package approved in Washington.

Amounts range from $58,135.57 for Challenger Basic School, a Gilbert charter school, to $12.9 million for the Mesa Unified School District.

Allocations are determined by school or district enrollment.

But finance officials at these public schools know the state is looking at a $1 billion deficit for the current fiscal year. Many expect the Legislature to start making cuts when it returns to session in January. With public education and public health being the biggest expenses for the state, they also make the biggest targets for cuts.

School business officials met last week and heard a report on the so-called EduJobs dollars.

Chuck Essigs, director of government relations for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, said while the state can’t touch the federal dollars for its own use, schools are trying to plan ahead.

“What we’re discussing and talking to districts about is, if you have immediate needs use it. But you might want to consider holding back a little bit until you see what the Legislature does when it comes back in January so you have a better idea of what they’re going to do with cuts to your budget,” Essigs said.

Essigs said if districts see midyear cuts, they could use the federal dollars to shore up some positions – temporarily.

“If you have to let 10 people go because of that (state cuts), perhaps you’d have enough (federal) money to keep five of them on another year,” he said. “You wouldn’t be able to do that permanently, but you could for the short term.”

Not only are schools facing a possible midyear cut, but the state budget doesn’t look much brighter next fiscal year.

With that double whammy, schools are leery about making plans for the federal money.

“All indications are we are going to have cuts this year with the state deficit,” said Chandler Unified School District spokesman Terry Locke.

“There’s no way to budget a little at a time. We’re being advised across the state to hang onto it (federal dollars). It’s just one bit of the information we need,” he added. “We’re on hold to see what the big picture looks like.”

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