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TPS, teachers clash again over use of federal funds

This time, debate about $7M meant to save educators' jobs

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    TPS Treasurer Dan Romano said the Toledo district was allocated about $7.4 million from the Education Jobs Fund money.

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TPS Treasurer Dan Romano said the Toledo district was allocated about $7.4 million from the Education Jobs Fund money.

The Blade/Andy Morrison
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While a dispute over one set of federal funds for Toledo's public schools appears over for the moment, a new debate has emerged between the teachers' union and the administration over millions of dollars in other federal funding.

Like most other Ohio school districts, Toledo saved the more than $7 million in federal aid it got last year to save teaching jobs, anticipating major cuts in state funding. Ohio school districts and charter schools have spent only about 10 percent of the $360 million in Education Jobs Fund money, which was part of an Obama Administration aid package passed by Congress last year to save teachers' jobs.

Most school officials decided to hold on to the money to combat anticipated cuts in the next two-year state budget, which begins July 1. That funding is now being wrapped into debates in Columbus about Ohio school funding, and into local disputes about the fiscal state of the Toledo school district.

The Toledo district was allocated about $7.4 million from the fund, and chose to save the money because of the projected cuts, TPS Treasurer Dan Romano said.

"Knowing with the state having an $8 billion shortfall that would trickle, or storm down on us ... we thought it was prudent," to hold on to the funds, Mr. Romano said.

But Francine Lawrence, president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, said how that money will be used has not been made clear to district employees.

"Romano is not transparent about how he is applying the jobs bill funds," Ms. Lawrence said. "He is not forthcoming in how it is going to be used."

Mr. Romano said he would not comment on Ms. Lawrence's opinions.

Under federal guidelines, schools have until September, 2012, to spend the money, so it must be used during the next school year. It can pay for salaries, performance bonuses, and other benefits such as health care for teachers, principals, librarians, counselors, coaches, bus drivers, and other school staff members, but it cannot go toward administrative costs.

Toledo school officials already accounted for the federal funds when they prepared budgets in the fall for the next several years. Despite those funds, the district is facing a deficit next year of about $37 million, though smaller proposed cuts from the state than originally projected may shrink that number.


Francine Lawrence, teachers' union president, said how that fund will be used has not been made clear to employees.


The district is in negotiations with its unions, hoping to partially plug the deficit for next year with givebacks by its labor groups. Teachers and district negotiators met last week, and Ms. Lawrence said a union request for a full financial presentation by the district was not fulfilled.

"We don't have trust in the number the school district presents to the public," Ms. Lawrence said. "A key factor in negotiations is credibility in the numbers."

But Mr. Romano said Ms. Lawrence is mischaracterizing what happened at the negotiation session. Both sides originally agreed to a time line for when information would be shared, including financial data. Under that time line, the district was supposed to present a financial report during the first week of May, Mr. Romano said.

"We are prepared to do that presentation whenever," Mr. Romano said, "but we are on target for the first week of May."

Meanwhile, the roughly $328 million remaining in one-time federal aid is also complicating the financial picture for Ohio schools because it appears to lower their net loss to a little more than $100 million.

State officials suggest that the $328 million in unused federal money softens the blow of nearly $430 million in cuts that schools face under Gov. John Kasich's two-year budget plan.

"It's not nothing," said state Rep. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green), who inquired about the federal funds in a recent budget hearing to get a better picture of how the proposed state spending plan would affect schools. "My intent is not to say, 'It's not that bad,' but what precisely is it?"

Pretty bad, say many school officials who are trying to assess their districts' financial pictures amid the loss of reimbursement for tangible personal property-tax revenue, federal stimulus money, and state aid.

"The districts that did hold [the federal aid] over will be happy, but it will not resolve the issues out there. The money is only available this year," said Barbara Shaner of the Ohio Association of School Business Officials.

While cuts to the district's funds in Governor Kasich's budget were less than TPS projected, the district still faces a projected eight-figure budget deficit.

"It is difficult for me or any other treasurer to say it is offsetting any shortfall of revenue; it's really offsetting the deficit that is approaching us," Mr. Romano said. "To say that that money is to cushion the reduction from the state, you have to recognize that it cushions it for a limited period of time."

The fund is not the first time teachers and district officials have sparred over federal money. The latest debate follows a dispute last month that briefly imperiled millions in federal dollars allocated to the district under the Race to the Top program. The federal program, aimed at reforming schools, would pump $10.8 million into the Toledo district.

The funding was briefly frozen by the Ohio Department of Education when the teachers' union pulled out of the program. Ms. Lawrence blamed the withdrawal on the district administration's cancellation of two teaching-related programs that were written into an agreement between the Board of Education and teachers when they submitted applications for Race to the Top.

The dispute was settled after mediation by the state, with Superintendent Jerome Pecko agreeing to withdraw the cancellation of the two programs and Ms. Lawrence agreeing to rescind the withdrawal from Race to the Top.

This report includes information from the Columbus Dispatch.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086.

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