Linden schools pin hopes on stimulus bill

Published 10:59 pm Tuesday, January 27, 2009

As Linden schools’ superintendent and board of education plan a series of workshop starting next month to address the looming funding crises, hopes for relief are pinned on the stimulus bill now in Congress.

Proration has hit the Linden School District especially hard, possibly forcing teacher cutbacks over the summer. It could potentially devastate Alabama’s smallest school district if the current state funding crunch extends past two years.

Gov. Bob Riley declared 12.5-percent proration in the education budget in December but softened the blow with $218 million from the education Rainy Day Fund.

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Riley hoped to hold onto remaining funds in the account for 2010, but he said if tax revenue figures did not improve, he would drain the remaining Rainy Day Fund for 2009 and leave no cushion for 2010.

That will leave the Linden School District with very few options.

“We need to start thinking as a board of ways we can save money,” Scott Collier, Linden’s superintendent of education, told board members Monday night. He also said that he is hoping help from the federal government may alliviate some of the funding crunch.

Under the plan, which borrows heavily from suggestions by the Obama administration, school districts would share a $14-billion pot of money to upgrade school buildings and facilities, along with extra federal aid to minimize the impact of budget cuts resulting from the current recession.

The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday provided some of the first statistics on how individual communities might benefit from the package, which President Barack Obama wants enacted before the Presidents Day holiday begins Feb. 16.

According to the Appropriations Committee, the proposal would generate an extra $797,000 for Linden schools over the next two years.

“It would also put additional money school construction and renovation,” Collier said.

Until that happens, the school district is beginning to look at what options are available if the shortfall in education funding continues.

The Linden School Board will meet Thursday, Feb. 19, at the school district’s central office for its first work session on the issue.

“We need to start thinking ahead and look at what our options are,” said board president Joyce Yeager.

Collier said there is about $300,000 in reserve right now, and he predicts about $200,000 will be needed from that fund to finish out the school year.

The problem with cutting back spending at Linden schools is finding a place left to cut. The school district has already been operating under tight conditions.

“We will do things like continue to watch our electricity usage, making sure all the lights are turned off when school is out and things like that,” Collier said. “That will save us some, but it will not be a lot of money. We are facing a cut of about $270,000 for the rest of this school year. “

The Linden School District is comprised of four campuses: the elementary school, middle school, high school and vocational center. It takes a budget of nearly $6 million each year to teach the 500 students who are enrolled there.

Collier previously indicated that it would be almost inevitable that the number of teachers will be reduced for the 2009-10 school year.

Collier also said some options that may be available after all other options have been exhausted would be to consolidate campuses — the three main campuses are already sharing one cafeteria — or trying to merge back into the Marengo County School District.