AUGUSTA — Maine schools are getting some extra money to help them in a tough economy, thanks to a jobs bill passed by Congress and President Obama.
Lewiston is getting $825,514; Auburn, $632,130; Oxford Hills in Oxford, $790,000; Jay, $305,743; and Lisbon, $199,917.
The money is part from the Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act, to help schools rehire or retain teachers and other education jobs.
Statewide, Maine schools are receiving $39 million, according to the Department of Education. The money can be used this year or next to rehire, avoid layoffs, restore furlough days for teachers, principals, librarians, food service personnel, bus drivers and other school positions.
Several superintendents said Friday they plan to save most or all of the money to help buffer big cuts expected next year when federal stimulus money is scheduled to end.
Oxford Hills Superintendent Rick Colpitts said his district is receiving more than expected. “We're very excited,” Colpitts said.
His budget committee will review the numbers Tuesday. “My recommendation will be take that $790,000 and sit on it.” Next year he expects a $2 million cut. “Just one month's payroll is over $1 million. So it'll go a long ways towards helping next year. I'll be able to retain staff.
Sabattus-Wales-Litchfield Superintendent Jim Hodgkin said he plans to recommend to his school board that some $80,000 be spent this year to fill a needed position, and save the remaining $145,000 for 2011-12.
“That is the year we're all looking at,” Hodgkin said. “This year there is an approved budget.” As long as there are no cuts from the state, “we should be able to make it through with the budget we have,” Hodgkin said.
He'll recommend most of the money be carried over to soften next year's cuts. “We'll be able to save some jobs,” Hodgkin said.
Last year, his three towns consolidated schools and cut 20.5 positions, all in grades K-8 with the high school untouched. If more cuts are needed next year, the high school would be looked at, he said.
Auburn Superintendent Tom Morrill and Lewiston Superintendent Leon Levesque said more money is good news, and they too will save.
“The forecast for us is to lose $1.6 million in 2011-12. Through the jobs bill, we can hold it and help to blunt the severe revenue downturn we do expect next year," Morrill said.
Next year, Lewiston expects a $1.5 million gap: $900,000 of federal stimulus money that won't be coming and $600,000 less from the state. The extra money will help “fill the hole we're facing next year,” Levesque said. “It would be extremely prudent to put that money aside.”
Levesque is retiring in December, but will present a budget proposal before he leaves.
The money from Congress is the same legislation that former Poland music teacher Lee Libby lobbied for in Washington. In July she met with Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, telling Snowe about how she was one of about a dozen teachers who lost their jobs, and how students were going without.
In July, Snowe had not decided if she'd support the bill. But she and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, ended up casting the key votes to break the filibuster and support the bill. U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, both Maine Democrats, also voted for it.
On Friday, Poland Superintendent Dennis Duquette said Libby and other teachers laid off will not be rehired, even with the federal money, because "the positions aren't sustainable, and we've restructured. We have a school budget plan that's going to work.”
He will also recommend saving for next year when Poland-Minot-Mechanic Falls schools face large cuts. “We don't want to lose any more programs or positions,” Duquette said.
After Snowe voted for the bill in August, Libby said it was satisfying to know she was able to play a small part in trying to help students. She hoped the money would keep educators working so schools could maintain the arts and reasonable class sizes.