Valley teachers are scratching their heads over whether they'll benefit from a $10 billion education relief bill that Congress is expected to pass today.
California hopes to receive an estimated $1.2 billion of that total, enough to rehire about 16,500 teachers. To put that in perspective, by state estimates, 5 percent of all California teachers, or 15,000, were laid off in 2009-10, with more drastic cuts in place for 2010-11.
But analysts say the state's fiscal mess may keep it from qualifying. California might be the last state still without a budget, and last year's education spending may be too low to meet the bill's requirements, according to School Services of California Inc.
The money would be allocated by enrollment, about $140 to $180 per student depending on the district's base funding formula, said Jannelle Kubinec, School Services associate vice president.
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Doing the math, that means Stanislaus County's 105,000 students would qualify for $15 million to $19 million. Modesto City Schools would receive $4 million to $5 million.
So if the state does receive the money, when would it be available and how could it be used?
"Questions. A lot of questions," said Ceres administrator Jay Simmonds. "We are very interested, but it really depends on how the state is going to handle it."
Ceres teachers took an 8.5 percent pay cut to avoid layoffs this year.
"We're a little nervous. It says it has to be used for salaries -- but is that reinstating existing salaries or only for bringing people back? In districts like Ceres, where we took pay cuts instead of laying off people, are we going to be penalized?" Simmonds asked.
As recently as two weeks ago the bill was not even on the radar, said Megan Gowans, head of the Modesto Teachers Association.
"Everything happened so fast. It was -- wham!" said Modesto teacher Melody McGill, who just returned from a union workshop on funding issues.
"I'm kind of excited, but I don't know how excited to be," Gowans said. Modesto City Schools laid off 60 teachers but has since placed a few elementary teachers with extra experience or credentials in high schools, and given others work as substitutes. There are still "forty-something" teachers without work, she said.
Even penciling in the money, Modesto City Schools can't erase its decision to raise the size of classes, which start Wednesday. Without the overlap of year-round schedules, schools don't have room for more classrooms.
"If we had more time -- but Wednesday? Surely the government is smart enough to know that," Gowans said. "We can't accommodate smaller classes, but we could add to support services like reading help and math tutoring, add more counseling, nursing services, even music -- those enrichments."
Sylvan schools started last week for year-round classes and Monday for its traditional schedule, and it has the room to shrink class sizes, Superintendent John Halverson said.
Sylvan's primary grades have 30 to 32 kids per room. As students have arrived, some class counts are higher than expected, he added.
"So now what?" Halverson mused. "We increased class sizes, and they're fairly large. In my mind -- just thinking out loud here -- we're going to be looking at some of the places where (class sizes) bubbled out."
Local leaders are clear on one thing: If the money arrives, they will figure out how to use it.
The Senate approved the measure last week, so House approval would clear the measure for President Barack Obama to sign it into law.
It is packaged with $16.1 billion in help for state health programs for the needy and more than the usual partisan political baggage.
Democrats hope the vote will give the party's candidates a jolt of momentum as lawmakers head home for their summer recess before congressional elections in November.
The scheduled showdown on the $26.1 billion aid package "defines the difference between the two parties," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
It sure does, fuming Republicans agreed.
"The American people don't want more stimulus spending," said House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio, "especially in the form of a payoff to union bosses and liberal special interests."
The new spending is offset by cuts in other federal programs, including a reduction in food stamp benefits after March 2014, as well as closing some corporate tax loopholes.
Even if all runs smoothly, however, money could not come to districts until at least October, and possibly much later if the state has no budget, Kubinec said.
Even if the money arrives, it won't end the budget anguish expected to last for at least another two years.
"People have to realize this is just a one-time solution. This is nice, but it's not going to solve the problem. It just puts it off," Ceres' Simmonds said.
David Lightman of the Bee Washington Bureau contributed to this story.
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2339.