Better, But Still Not Good

Local Schools Aim To Avoid Layoffs Due To Cuts In Federal Funding

Posted: March 6, 2013

Special education students read in Deb Zwanzig’s class at Waterman Elementary School on Tuesday afternoon. According to a White House document detailing the effects of the sequester on education in Virginia, nearly $13.9 million would be lost in funding for programs for children with disabilities. (Photo by Nikki Fox / DN-R)
HARRISONBURG — After crunching the numbers, local school administrators found that sequestration will affect their divisions’ budgets half as much as initially believed.

But they’re still not cheering that fact, given that to avoid layoffs they’ll have to shuffle money around and potentially look to local governments to pick up the slack.

While Rockingham County and Harrisonburg City schools both originally anticipated a federal revenue loss of up to $400,000 for fiscal 2014 due to sequestration, actual cuts will be significantly lower, they said. The fiscal year for the school divisions begins July 1.

Harrisonburg City Schools will see $146,015 less in federal funding in the upcoming year, while Rockingham County is estimating a loss of $230,000, according to schools officials.

But the hits directly affect funding for salaries to what local educators say are critical teaching positions in programs for students with disabilities and for those not proficient in English.

In Harrisonburg, three positions are in danger because of the 2013-14 cuts and about five in the county are in jeopardy, officials said.

Neither division anticipates having to lay off employees next school year, but instead will ask local governments to shoulder the costs of maintaining them or trim their budgets in other places to make up for the loss in federal dollars.

“If I’m trying to be optimistic, it could have been a lot worse, but I’m still not celebrating,” said Harrisonburg City Schools Superintendent Scott Kizner, who noted the division already was dealing with a loss of $1.2 million in federal funds. Most of that came from the now-expired federal stimulus spending package.

Added Cheryl Mast, director of finance for county schools: “It’s good in one sense, but it’s still having an impact on how we handle positions for this year.”

For 2012-13, county schools received nearly $4.8 million in federal funding. Harrisonburg, which has a considerably smaller budget and student enrollment than the county, but has a much higher percentage of economically disadvantaged students, received nearly $4 million.

County schools’ budget for the current fiscal year is $112 million and the city’s is $58.2 million.

The federal government’s automatic across-the-board cuts will begin affecting schools this fall.
 
Cuts originally were scheduled to begin in December, but Congress pushed them back to March. The percentages that would be cut from school programs were therefore reduced, leading to a smaller impact next fiscal year.

Federal funding in local schools is mainly for Title I and special education.

Title I is the federal program that provides additional funding in support of schools that meet criteria for the number of students considered to be living in poverty.

Because most federal funds pay for personnel, the cuts put the jobs of staff in those programs on the line.

According to a White House document detailing the effects of the sequester on education in Virginia, the state will lose approximately $14 million for primary and secondary education, putting the jobs of as many as 190 teachers and aides in jeopardy.

Nearly the same amount — $13.9 million — would be lost in funding for programs for children with disabilities, placing the salaries of another 170 teachers, aides and staff members on the line, according to the White House.

“I’m hoping Congress gets their act together with the president and those guys realize there are real impacts,” Kizner said. “These are children who depend on adults to help them be successful. It’s somewhat disturbing when I hear that these cuts don’t have impacts.

“If you’re a child with a disability or you’re a child that’s learning to speak English it does have impact.”

Although K-12 public schools stand to lose more money than area higher-education institutions, Blue Ridge Community College President John Downey said the possible long-term effects of sequestration are troubling.

“If the economy of Virginia is impacted, then there’s less tax revenue for the state of Virginia and therefore all state agencies may need to be cut,” Downey said. “That’s the real threat to the finances of Blue Ridge Community College long term.”

For 2013-14, BRCC is expecting a 5 percent hit to the $68,500 it receives in federal grants, or about $3,400.

“Those funds are pretty critical to us because they help fund our career and technical education program and outreach in those areas,” said Bridget Baylor, college spokeswoman.

James Madison University on the other hand doesn’t expect any cuts or changes to its budgeting process, according to Don Egle, university spokesman.

Contact Emily Sharrer at 574-6286 or esharrer@dnronline.com



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