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Bennet says $900 million in stimulus funds will prevent school layoffs

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Jeffco officials say they’re not sure how money can be used

By The Staff

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet says that $900 million in federal stimulus money headed to Colorado for educational purposes will prevent layoffs at school districts statewide, but Jeffco Public Schools officials say they aren’t so sure.

Bennet said the federal government is doling out $44 billion in stimulus funding that will be available to state education budgets in 30 to 45 days.

“Money is not the solution to many of the problems that confront us in public education,” Bennet, a Democrat, said in a March 11 conference call with Colorado reporters. “But this funding is going to allow districts all over the state of Colorado to prevent what would have been enormous cuts of teachers in this terrible recession.”

Melissa Reeves, a spokeswoman for Jeffco Public Schools, said the district is in line to receive $23 million that can be used only for Title 1 schools and special education. Title 1 schools serve primarily low-performing children who are struggling in literacy and/or math.

“Jeffco schools can only use the federal stimulus money to maintain Title 1 programs and special education,” Reeves said in a March 11 e-mail. “We just don’t have enough information from the feds yet about how we can use this money to prevent layoffs.”

Reeves said cuts are bring made in the current school year, and that the district is “trying to avoid layoffs through attrition and retirements. But, unfortunately our superintendent predicts 130 jobs will be lost for the next year (2010-11), and up to 500 jobs the following year (2011-12), either by not filling the vacant positions or forced layoffs.”

Bennet was more confident that the federal money would help.

“Over $760 million is coming (through the state stabilization program),” Bennet said when asked about Jeffco’s job-loss predictions and the lack of clarity on how the stimulus money will prevent layoffs. “Almost all of that money is going to be used to support the state budget over the next two years, and it’s largely K-12 funding. I don’t know where they are in their budget process; I think they were looking at $30 million of cuts in their budget, but this should substantially offset that.”

Bennet said the situation might be worse for Jeffco Public Schools without the coming stimulus money.

“Ask them to do the math on what the losses would be if they weren’t receiving these funds,” Bennet said.

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates to this story.