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SMMUSD Restores Staff Positions  

By Jonathan Friedman

August 20, 2010 – Using a combination of funds garnered through the Save Our Schools (SOS) campaign and federal money that is expected to flow into the school district, the Board of Education on Thursday restored more than 30 staff positions in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District that were eliminated in June. But several District officials cautioned that these funds were one-time dollars, and unless something changes, the cash-strapped SMMUSD will have to cut the restored positions before the 2011-12 school year.

The restoration will reduce class sizes and ensure the elementary school libraries can be open during the entire school week. Also, the elementary school music program is back in full force. All the teachers who were laid off two months ago can return to the District, Superintendent Tim Cuneo said. But several of these people have gotten other jobs or moved. So the District will need to hire new people to fill some restored positions.

The SOS campaign raised approximately $1.5 million through a variety of methods during a 60-day period. The federal money comes from a spending package to protect teacher jobs that was signed into law by President Obama earlier this month.

The combined money will pay for 13.5 elementary school teachers, 4.6 secondary teachers, 4 counselors -- The Board already approved these jobs last month, so now SOS dollars can cover the cost. Also, it should be noted one of the counselor positions is not a restoration, but rather a newly created job that did not receive full Board support, 4 elementary music teachers, 4 elementary library coordinators, $220,000 for reading specialists and $120,000 for “targeted professional development.”

While how much SOS money was available was clear, the federal money was a trickier subject. The State will serve as the middle man to distribute the estimated $1.2 billion California will receive. How it will do this is unclear. A variety of sources have told the SMMUSD that the amount it will receive could be as low as $1.2 million, but it could be as high as the $2 mill range. SMMUSD officials will likely learn next month how much the District will receive, and the money will come in by November.

District staff had proposed using about $900,000 of federal money this year and reserving the remainder (unclear how much that would be) for next year. The logic behind this was that using the money next year could protect some of the jobs being restored this year, and limit the “cycle of hire/fire,” Cuneo said. But Board members said at least the minimum expected $1.2 million should be used now (and if more is received, that would be addressed later), a point echoed by Harry Keiley, president of the teachers union.

“Every penny, every penny from that federal money, every penny, needs to go directly into the classroom to make a difference in the lives of children this year, not next year, but this year,” he said. “And that means keeping people employed.

Although all the board members supported putting $1.2 million toward job restoration and other programs this year, not all did so with enthusiasm. Board President Barry Snell said he was torn about it.

“This is not just a feel-good thing,” he said. “This is realism. We have been deficit spending for some time. And putting these jobs back could possibly put us in a worse position if certain things do not happen.”

The City’s half-cent sales tax proposal on the November ballot includes an advisory measure asking if voters would like half the estimated $12 million in annual revenue to go to the SMMSD. Also, the District will be looking at other revenue options and and the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation is searching for ongoing funding sources.

“Hope and faith should be our compass,” Board member Oscar de la Torre said. “And I have a lot of hope and faith in our community in terms of winning in November the necessary funds to keep and sustain our quality public schools.”


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