FORT WORTH -- School Superintendent Melody Johnson recommended Tuesday that the district use $13.6 million in federal money to save the jobs of about half the employees who faced layoffs this year.
The federal education aid was tied up in a political dispute for months but was released to Texas school districts this week. Tarrant County-area districts received a total of $56.7 million.
Fort Worth officials had planned to lay off about 360 employees in the face of state funding cuts that could top $72 million over the next two years.
Johnson recommended spending the federal money to retain 143 pre-kindergarten teaching assistants, 26 campus monitors, 13 science lab assistants and 15 special-education teachers. She also recommended using about $5.1 million to pay for elementary math coaches whose jobs were to be covered by federal Title I funds so those dollars, which are designated to help poor students, can be used elsewhere.
The money will also be used to pay for staffers who provide services to pregnant students, Johnson said. The district expects to lose about $250,000 in state grants for those services.
Trustees are expected to finalize the use of federal funds when they adopt the 2011-12 budget next month. They indicated Tuesday that they approved of Johnson's recommendation.
"It was to our benefit that it worked out," Johnson said.
The federal money can be used to retain school-level employees but not for central office or districtwide staff, such as maintenance personnel.
Johnson is also recommending that some money be used to pay salaries for school-level employees to attend professional development events, such as training related to the state's new standardized test beginning next year.
Carlos Vasquez, who was the only trustee to vote against cutting the pre-kindergarten aides, said the district should not have moved toward layoffs, considering that it has about $150 million in reserves and knew it was likely to receive federal money.
"We had 200-and-some-odd employees worried about their jobs for no reason," Vasquez said. "We had the money in our coffers the whole time."
Trustee Norm Robbins said trustees had to approve the job cuts as fiscal stewards. Spending savings would not have been responsible, he said.
"I think we did act responsibly, and I'm glad we don't have to displace those employees," Robbins said.
Johnson also noted that by law, the district had to observe deadlines for notifying certain employees that their position is to be cut. That had to happen before it was clear that the federal money would be freed up, she said.
The federal money was at the center of a fight that began this fall when U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, added a Texas-specific amendment to the federal education bill. He said he wanted to ensure that Texas schools received the $830 million targeted for the state to help in hiring and retaining education jobs.
But Gov. Rick Perry said the Doggett amendment would have forced the state to violate its constitution. Under the amendment, Perry would have had to certify that he would spend a set level of money on education over three years. The state's budget is set every two years. An effort to avoid a federal government shutdown in April included repealing the amendment.