With the announcement Monday that Montana will receive $30.7 million from the U.S. Dept. of Education, Gov. Bryan Schweitzer’s office now is tasked with deciding how best to use the money.
Officials from Billings School District 2, the state’s largest school district, are pretty sure they won’t see any of it.
“We think they’ll use it to backfill,” said Thomas Harper, SD2’s finance director.
The money is part of $10 billion in education funding recently made available to state governments through federal stimulus dollars set aside specifically for saving education jobs.
“(The governor’s office) decided that they will appropriate the federal money and reduce the general fund by a like amount,” Denise Juneau, state superintendent of schools, said in a statement Tuesday. “The Office of Public Instruction will distribute the money to schools based on the school funding formula.”
But officials at SD2 and elsewhere in the state aren’t so confident. Many believe the new federal money would be used to displace funds already budgeted for schools, which could be spent on other state needs.
Either way, it likely won’t have much of an impact on SD2’s financial outlook, Harper said.
School District 2 is anticipating anywhere from a $5 million to $12 million shortfall in state funding for the 2011-2012 school year. With a hole that big, the district will find itself in dire financial straits next year, “even with the addition of the $30.7 million of job funds (to the state),” Harper said.
Still, every bit will help, and district officials are eager to learn how the governor’s office will apply the money.
A phone message and e-mail sent Tuesday to Dan Villa, Schweitzer’s education adviser, were not returned.
By law, the money can only be used on education jobs, including salaries and benefits, said Jessica Rhoades, an OPI spokeswoman.
“Jobs funded under this program include those that provide educational and related services for early childhood, elementary, and secondary education,” Rhoades said.
Contact Rob Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 657-1231.