Federal bail-out for schools on the way but Superintendent Rinearson takes a “wait and see” position.
President Obama is expected to sign a just-passed U.S. Senate bill that provides just over a quarter billion dollars in aid to Oregon schools, medicaid and law enforcement. But how that money filters down to individual school districts is substantially at the discretion of the state legislature. “So there’s lots of unknowns,” according to Lincoln County Schools Superintendent Tom Rinearson.
For one, Rinearson says it appears that schools may have to maintain district employment levels as they were in 2008 to qualify for federal aid. That’s something Lincoln County Schools can’t begin to do because of declining enrollments and therewith declining state funding. Secondly, the state legislature is known to pass through federal dollars only to subtract back out a certain amount of state support and re-direct those funds for other imperiled state programs aimed largely at the poor and indigent. “One hand gives, the other takes away,” he said. There’s also word that the federal money can only be used to keep teachers on the job. Rinearson says “only until the bill is ratified by the House and signed by the President, and it filters down to state capitals will we begin to know what the actual impact will be on local school districts. And that could take until the first of the year to play out, which is half-way through our school year.”
Rinearson said the decision has already been made by the school board to use a considerable portion of district financial reserves to replace declining state support, along with savings from up to 12 fewer school days during the year to give students and teachers a stable learning environment. As he has said several times before, “I won’t count on any money from Salem or Washington until it’s in my hand. Once we’ve got it, we can begin talking about how to use it.” Rinearson said he’s encouraged about the extra federal money enroute to Oregon but reiterated there are a lot of unknowns about restrictions on its use and qualifiers for each school district.