January 4,  2011

School district will retain much
of its jobs-preservation grant

Brandywine School District is banking most of the $2.1 million it received from the federal government to preserve or increase teacher jobs this year in order to make up some of the gap when economic stimulus money provided in 2009 runs out at the end of the year.

Chief financial officer David Blowman told Delaforum he could not be precise about how much of the new money will be left other than that it will be "by far the larger portion" of the total grant. The grant was part of Delaware's share of the $10 billion Congress provided last summer to offset effects of tight state and local budgets on employment in public schools. Brandywine laid off 23 teachers and 43 paraprofessionals in May. Blowman said it recalled 13 and 36, respectively, of those people.

Superintendent Mark Holodick announced at the December school board meeting that nine paraprofessional teacher aides would be added, using jobs-preservation money, for the remainder of this academic year.

Blowman said federal guidelines provide that the jobs-preservation grant may be used to support salaries of any educational personnel, not just teachers, during this or next academic year. Congress did not enact the legislation until August and the Delaware Department of Education did not pass it through to local districts until mid-autumn. That was "long after all our staffing decisions had been made," he said.

Other than to say that it was a legitimate alternative under provisions of the law, Blowman would not comment on how the decision to delay using the money jibed with the stated intent of Congress to respond to an immediate need. State officials reputedly encouraged districts to do so.

With an increase of 291 students enrolled this year Brandywine received authorization for 708 teaching and teaching-support positions partly financed by the state, up from 671 last year. Blowman said not all the employees let go in May were recalled before new people were hired because their certifications did not match what was required for specific openings. He also said he did not know how many were offered but declined recall.

He said that Brandywine this year is paying all its instructional personnel through state-authorized teacher units without relying on financing from sources, like economic stimulus grants, that have expiration dates.

Blowman said it is too soon to speculate on whether this district is likely to have any reduction-in-force layoffs at the end of this academic year. It is required to notify any employee by mid-May if his or her contract will not be continued into the following academic year.

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