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Schools fear federal budget cuts
County told to brace for possible sequestration

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Henry County School officials said they have been advised by an official with the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) to plan for a loss of up to 9 percent in federal funds for certain programs in case sequestration, or across-the-board federal spending cuts, were to occur.

Such educational programs as Title I, Perkins (career and technical education) and IDEA (special education) could be affected, Henry County Schools Superintendent Jared Cotton said. Title 1 refers to reading and math programs for high-poverty schools.

“We were told it wouldn’t impact this school year, but the 2013-14 school year,” Cotton said.

Cotton and Dawn Lawson, chief financial officer for Henry County Schools, recently attended a session organized by Roanoke County Schools that was led by Noelle Ellerson, who is AASA’s assistant director for policy analysis and advocacy. Cotton said officials from a number of other school systems attended.

Lawson said Ellerson doesn’t expect anything to happen until after the election.

Cotton said Henry County Schools officials have not yet estimated what the financial impact would be on the school system if sequestration occurs. He said the school system would have to come up with funds elsewhere for mandated services, and cuts might have to be made.

He also said sequestration is a 10-year process, so it potentially could have impact for several years.

Travis Clemons, Martinsville City Schools executive director of finance and development, said, “Until the feds start putting out information, which they are not, it’s not possible for us” to know the impact of possible sequestration on the school system.

“Every school district would like to know,” he said, adding this is uncharted territory with many unknowns. He said it’s unknown whether sequestration will occur.

Kris Landrum, spokesperson for Patrick Henry Community College, said, “We have not received any official word on sequestration one way or another yet.”

“ ... Probably nothing will happen before the election,” she said.

“We do have some federal programs which could potentially be impacted,” she said. Those are Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math and Science. Those programs work with middle and high school students, offering enrichment and college exploratory programs.

Student support services programs for first-generation college students, low-income students and students with disabilities also could be affected, she said.

She said the college could not speculate on how much or even if those programs would be impacted by sequestration.

Roger Morris, superintendent of Patrick County Schools, said he had not received a lot of information about possible sequestration of federal funds, but he estimated the school district possibly could lose about $60,000 to $80,000 in Title 1 funds and about that much for special education.

Asked whether he realistically thinks the sequestration of federal funds will occur, he said, “I would hope not.” He said it depends a lot on whether “Congress can get themselves together.”

He said he is getting mixed messages from the Virginia and U.S. departments of education on whether sequestration would impact the budget this school year or next school year.

The school system might make up any loss of Title I funds by reduction in technology and personnel. “It’s not clear as how much that would be,” he said.

If federal funds were cut for special education, the school system still would have to provide the services, so unless the state and/or locality provided funding to compensate, the school system would have to make cuts, he said. Almost all the school system’s special education money is in personnel, he said.

Henry County Administrator Tim Hall and Martinsville Interim City Manager Leon Towarnicki said they have received no information about possible sequestration.

The U.S. Office of Management and Budget recently issued a report as a result of the Sequestration Transparency Act of 2012 (STA), which requires the president to submit to Congress a report on the potential sequestration triggered by the failure of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to propose, and Congress to enact, a plan to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion, as required by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA).

The report says: “In August 2011, bipartisan majorities in both the House and Senate voted for the threat of sequestration as a mechanism to force Congress to act on further deficit reduction. The specter of harmful across-the-board cuts to defense and nondefense programs was intended to drive both sides to compromise. The sequestration itself was never intended to be implemented. The administration strongly believes that sequestration is bad policy, and that Congress can and should take action to avoid it by passing a comprehensive and balanced deficit reduction package.”

The report calls sequestration “a blunt and indiscriminate instrument” and “not the responsible way for our nation to achieve deficit reduction.”

Without further congressional action, the first of the annual reductions of $109 billion will be implemented Jan. 2, 2013, with the total reduction of $1.2 trillion for FY (fiscal year) 2013 through FY 2021, the report says.


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