Cautious optimism for district

Officials are not pinning hopes on expected federal funds.

September 03, 2010|By Tom Ragan,

COSTA MESA — Newport-Mesa Unified School District officials said Friday that they aren't sure the district is going to get $4 million in federal money recently promised to the district, given the uncertainties still shrouding the $20-billion budget deficit in Sacramento.

Paul Reed, the district's chief financial officer, said he's "tentatively optimistic" because Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger must first sign the bill that would release the funds.

Although state lawmakers have already signed off on it, Reed said that in the absence of a state budget, it's likely that the federal money won't be available for the district.


"Consequently, we are tentatively optimistic that the money will reach school districts in the near future," Reed said. "We remain uncertain that largesse from Washington will not be offset by eventual 'take-back' maneuvering from Sacramento. It has happened before.

"In other words, it's too early to tell."

On Thursday, State Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell released figures showing how much money individual school districts would receive statewide from the federal jobs bill signed by President Obama last month.

California schools stand to receive $1.2 billion in benefits, of which Orange County's 28 districts were expected to get $96 million.

Newport-Mesa, with 22,000 students, may represent only a small fraction of the total expenditure, but it's a chunk of change that would be welcomed, officials said, given the fact that the school board was forced to lay off more than 100 teachers this coming school year in order to plug a $13.5-million deficit.

Reed called the state "fiscally desperate," and said that with no budget resolution in sight, the district is a bit worried that the state may "short change" districts, perhaps even imposing mid-year cuts.

"The state is in the red," he said.

"Bottom line is, we can't confirm that the district will actually see the dollars," said district spokeswoman Laura Boss. "As such we are not going to obligate the district to funding people or things that we do not have the money in our coffers right now to pay for.

"If it actually comes in, then we will develop a plan."

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