Tuesday, May 21, 2013

‘We May Have To Close Schools’: Five Districts That Are Grappling With Sequestration’s Budget Cuts

While many public schools will be able to stave off some of the harshest impacts of sequestration with other sources of revenue, those that serve military families and Native American communities are in a much more difficult situation. That’s because they rely heavily on federal Impact Aid. That money goes to schools on or near military bases and Native American reservations that don’t collect as much in tax revenues as other public schools to help fill the gap.

Sequestration will reduce the $1.2 billion these schools normally receive by more than $60 million. According to analysis by the Center for American Progress, there are nearly 150 schools in the country relying on more than $1 million in aid. Some could see cuts in the millions of dollars.

The National Association of Federally Impacted Schools, which works closely with these communities, is conducting a survey of school districts grappling with this reduction in funding. While the full results won’t be ready for another month, the preliminary report, shared with ThinkProgress, shows that many are already facing drastic choices. One school warned that “we may have to close schools” and another cautioned that “closure is always a possibility.” Six of the nine schools it talked to will have to consider closing schools if sequestration continues past next year.
  • The Window Rock Unified School District in Arizona gets just under 60 percent of its funding from federal aid. This year it eliminated about 65 staff positions through attrition and cut down its buildings from seven to four. If sequestration continues, it will have to close schools, many of which are in areas of high unemployment and poverty.
  • The Harlem Elementary School District didn’t rehire for some positions and asked 100 employees to cut $100 from their operational budgets to deal with a 47 percent cut to the budget this year. It also canceled Kindergarten for a day, but one five-year-old still came to school because he was hungry and needed his state-subsidized breakfast. Next year it will have to dip into reserves or hold fundraisers. After that it will have to cut staff, go over the state class size limit, and look at closing schools.
  • Heart Butte in Montana, which gets over half of its funding from the federal government, cuts have forced the district to hold off on all repairs this school year. That means that there are leaks, no hot water, roofs that need patching, buses in neglect, and a playground that doesn’t comply with regulations. The school needs to install new doors and safety gates, but that is also on hold. If things don’t improve it may have to lay off teachers.
  • The Hays/Lodge Pole school district in Montana, which is losing more than half of its budget, is unable to fill a counseling spot even as youth suicides are on the rise. It also had to cut paraprofessionals, all secretaries but one, and cooks’ helpers. After next year, school officials say there will be nothing left to cut.
  • The McLaughlin Independent School District in South Dakota, which gets two-thirds of its budget from federal funding, has already implemented changes for the current school year: reducing staff to one teacher per classroom for grades three through five and cuts to the music program, P.E., and administrative positions. If Congress doesn’t end sequestration, it will have to close schools.

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