ARLINGTON -- Nearly half of employees facing elimination in the Arlington school district budget would be spared under a plan to use $10.3 million in federal education-jobs funding.
But Superintendent Jerry McCullough's proposal, outlined to the school board Monday night, met resistance from some trustees who questioned the wisdom of a one-year stay of unemployment for 291 workers.
The board is set to vote Thursday on what jobs, if any, will be saved for next year by the money, which is part of $831 million in federal stimulus funds allocated for Texas. The funding has been tied up in political disputes but now is being distributed to school districts based on weighted average daily attendance.
Trustee John Hibbs proposed tapping a little-known alternative in the federal guidelines, under which the district could use some of the money to potentially erase the district's long-running operating deficit.
"We have a responsibility for the long-term interests of this district," Hibbs said.
The district's financial projections based on the economy and uncertain state funding are dire, he said. "We could be bankrupt in a couple of years," he said.
Larry Shaw, executive director of the United Educators Association was angered by Hibbs' counterproposal.
"He's balancing the budget on the back of the education jobs grant," Shaw said. "He's totally violating the spirit of the law."
Shaw also said Arlington is more financially secure than many districts and has one of the largest reserve funds of any district in the state.
McCullough recommended using $6.3 million to save 291 of the 631 jobs that have been eliminated during fierce budget cutting over the past few months. The district is facing a possible $30 million reduction in state funding for the 2011-12 school year, though the figure could change depending on how the state balances its own budget.
McCullough's plan would save 100 kindergarten teaching assistants ($1.82 million), 72 guidance technicians ($1.66 million), 12 high school and junior high assistant principals ($1.6 million) and 46 special-education teaching assistants ($789,000).
McCullough proposed holding the remaining $4 million or so until the end of the regular legislative session, when districts should have a clearer picture of their state funding. He said the remaining federal funds could possibly be used to hire 70 teachers who "would be in critical areas for us that would lower class size."
McCullough and supporters of his plan contend that using the money for one-year job extensions is the right thing to do. It gives workers another year of income, more time to find other jobs and perhaps time for the economy to improve enough for some of their jobs to become permanent.
But board Vice President Peter Baron said the money should be used to reduce the budget shortfall.
"As far as I'm concerned, this is money we've already spent last year and the year before," Baron said.
Hibbs' proposal makes use of a provision that allows districts to use the money to offset campus-level expenses retroactively. Hibbs wants to use $4.8 million of the federal funds to pay the 3 percent employee raises included in the current year's budget, in effect freeing up the district's own funds that paid for those raises and funneling them back into the budget.
His plan would also rehire the 12 assistant principals and save 25 teaching positions, leaving $3 million to save until the state funding issues are worked out. He said he could see using that money to rehire more employees.
Robert Cadwallader, 817-390-7641