With Federal Money, Newark and Other Districts See Chance to Reinstate Teachers

John Mooney, Education writer | August 11, 2010
No guarantees, but infusion of $268 million could be in place by September and save 3,900 jobs statewide

The list is eight pages long: nearly 500 Newark public school teachers — virtually none tenured — who received “reduction in force” notices in June.

That number shrunk a little as other teachers made late decisions to retire, but it still represented hundreds of teachers lost from Newark classrooms.

“Maybe 150 or so have been called back, but it’s been very slow,” said Joseph DelGrosso, president of the Newark Teachers Union. “We’re hoping now if this money goes through that we’ll get most of them back.”

DelGrosso’s hope rests in law signed by President Obama last night that cleared the way for $10 billion in federal aid to states to help their public schools retain and rehire teachers lost to the state aid cuts and dire economic times.

For New Jersey, it will be $268 million in new federal by as soon as September, enough to save roughly 3,900 teacher jobs, said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan yesterday. The state’s dominant union has said as many as 10,000 teachers and staff could have been lost statewide through retirements and layoffs.

“I’ve had lots of concern about the level of cuts in New Jersey, and the level of services and educational opportunity disappearing,” said Duncan in a conference call with reporters. “We were very, very concerned about children of New Jersey and around the country being shortchanged, and hopefully this is a huge step in the right direction.”

Whether the 11th-hour money will allow for teachers in Newark and elsewhere to be rehired in time for the opening of schools remains a big question, local officials have said, but Duncan said he wants the money to be put to use quickly.

“We feel a huge case of urgency,” he said. “We need to get this money out the door right away.”

After expressing some reservations over the last week, Gov. Chris Christie’s office yesterday announced that the state would get in line for the money. A spokesman repeated concerns that the one-time infusion will leave a gap in next year’s state budget, as last year’s federal stimulus did this year, but the money was coming regardless.

“While Governor Chris Christie believes that using this type of non-recurring funding for operating expenses is ill advised because it will disappear after one year, the Governor will apply for the education funding passed by the House today in order to ensure it is managed and distributed to local school districts by the State of New Jersey, and not the federal government,” read a statement from spokesman Michael Drewniak.

“Guaranteeing New Jersey is in control of these education dollars will ensure that these funds are used by all school districts to help restore some of the federal stimulus funds lost in this year’s difficult budget.”

The application process will be streamlined, Duncan said, and states will be required to meet certain conditions to ensure that the money isn’t shifted to other accounts. A conference call with state leaders is planned for today, he said.

“This money could get to the local level by early September,” said Carmel Martin, an assistant U.S. education secretary.

Under a “maintenance of effort” clause, states will be required to maintain their state aid to both K-12 schools and higher education at the same proportion of overall state spending as in 2009, according to the law.