With federal dollars, schools hire back some teachers — for now

After losing her teaching job in Norwich last spring, Antonia Revere worried all summer, hoping for the phone call that finally came this week.

“I’m so relieved. I’m so happy,” said Revere, who was notified by the school district Monday that she has been rehired as a third grade teacher.

She is one of hundreds of Connecticut teachers whose jobs will be saved – at least temporarily – under the Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act passed by Congress and signed by President Obama this month.

State officials will begin disbursing more than $110 million to school districts, part of the federal $10 billion jobs bill designed to save or create teaching jobs across the U.S. in the 2010-11 school year.

In Connecticut, many school districts had braced for widespread layoffs this year, but the sudden infusion of money has left officials scrambling to recall teachers, alter budgets, and adjust plans with only days left before the new school year begins.

In Norwich, for example, officials are looking for ways to find the space to rehire 14 or 15 teachers after laying off about more than 45 teachers and other employees, combining some classes and closing two elementary schools.

With the school closings, space is tight, said Superintendent Abby Dolliver. “I’ve asked principals to check every nook and cranny in their buildings” to accommodate the extra teachers.

Connecticut’s allotment will allow schools to save about 1,000 to 1,300 jobs across the state, said Tom Murphy, a spokesman for the State Department of Education.

The money goes directly to school districts and not to towns, Murphy said. The allotments range from a few thousand dollars in small districts to millions of dollars in the state’s largest and poorest school systems.

The money “must be used to recall, retain or create jobs in education,” Murphy said. In addition to rehiring teachers, schools “can bring teacher aides back, cafeteria workers or even bus drivers as long as they were employed by the district,” he said.

The education jobs bill will save jobs and ease some classroom crowding this year, but educators remain worried about the following school year, when a separate federal stimulus grant expires. That grant of about $270 million has been used to prop up state school aid, accounting for about 14 percent of the state’s Education Cost Sharing grant, the major source of state aid to municipalities.

With Connecticut facing a massive budget deficit next year, educators and municipal officials are uncertain how the state can fill the gap when the stimulus dries up.

As a result, some school districts are planning to delay using some of the federal jobs money until next year.

In Hartford, Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski will recommend holding the district’s $11 million allotment in jobs money in reserve to partially offset the expected loss of stimulus funds for the 2011-12 school year, said David Medina, a spokesman for the school system.

In Hamden, schools are in line for more than $1.3 million in jobs money this year, but “we’ll probably keep the bulk of the money for next year,” said Superintendent of Schools Frances Rabinowitz.

Hamden schools were able to avoid layoffs this year, and Rabinowitz said she plans to limit new hiring to a high school reading specialist and two or three kindergarten teachers.

“It’s tough timing for this money to come in,” she said. “Having it come in now – schedules, assignments are already done.”

In New Britain, where 112 jobs had been eliminated, officials expect to rehire about 40 employees, most of them teachers, said Helen Yung, a spokeswoman for the school system.

The money will allow schools to reduce class sizes. Even some kindergarten classes had been projected to have more than 30 children, Yung said. The Board of Education has not yet decided whether to hold some of the money until the following year, she said.

Educators know the jobs money may be only a temporary reprieve.

“We’re thankful for any support,” said Dolliver, the Norwich superintendent. “We’ll deal with next year when we get there.”