EVART — With both Congress and the administration seemingly unable to resolve the on-going, extended debt ceiling crisis, the much talked about wide-ranging budget cuts being threatened by the act referred to as “the sequestration” has most people wondering, ‘How will this affect me?’
There are a lot of potential ways a budget cutting exercise of this type can affect the daily life of many Americans.
Any program that is supported through the funding of federal dollars is under the knife.
Meals on Wheels programs, for example, could be adversely affected if planners have not been carefully tucking away rainy day funds.
Arguably the most visible local programs to be hurt by a loss of federal funding dollars would be those in school districts that are supported with Title One money.
School administrators in Osceola County really aren’t sure where they stand at this point. But then, this is a common situation in the school budgeting process. Far too often economic planners in public education haven’t known how much money they will have in the budget year to come until after their budgets had to be filed. Even today they often can’t be sure how much of the money awarded them in state aid will actually be on hand when needed.
The potential loss of Title One money and other federal funds is simply another cut from budgets that have been negatively impacted for a decade or more - either because of a loss of student population, or because of shrinking state aid resources.
Whatever the case, administrators cautiously believe that a loss of Title One funding will probably not affect budgets this school year (2012-13), but will certainly create problems in the coming school year (2013-14) if the situation doesn’t stabilize soon.
“We receive federal funding through Title One and also federal money for our pre-school program,” reported Evart Public Schools superintendent Howard Hyde.
“This funding is largely determined by the number of at-risk students we have in our district.
“This year, between all of the programs, we are expecting to receive about $440,000.
“This is money we received as we use it. We pay our employees or buy our materials and then bascially bill the federal government to receive the funding in return.
“We budget on the assumption that the money we were promised will be available.
“We can only hope it will be.”
Hyde said the budget cutting figure he had heard bantered about was five percent - across the board.
If five percent is indeed cut, the Evart district stands to lose $22,000 in federal funding.
“More and more federal money is being used to pay employees,” he said. “We are in a position where we simply can’t eliminate more positions in our schools. The loss of funding would need to be made up through other avenues.
“But ...we really have no idea what it going to happen one way or the other. The uncertainty is probably more of an issue than whatever the actually situation may be.
“We budget by assumption, and that is not a healthy situation.”
Hyde pointed out that as opposed to in the decade past, administrators find themselves “budgeting by assumption” more and more.
How the sequestration order will actually affect this school year, or the year to come simply is not known, so budgeting and planning becomes that much more a challenge.
He also noted that the amount of budget dollars available to his district changes on a regular basis, and sometimes even daily.
“These fluctuations affect how we plan, and seriously impact how we look ahead to budget for programs such as special education,” he said.
“We haven’t received anything, and I don’t suppose we will, that clearly tells us what we can expect to lose in funding. It is just ...out there.
“If our federal funding is cut, we can survive it. But, we need to be able to effectviely plan for what is coming down the road.
“That we cannot do.”
Hyde’s biggest concern is whether and how the sequestration action will actually impact next year’s budgeting.
“I hope if this action - or lack of action - affects our district next year, someone will say, ‘Here is the figure you need to work with for 2013-14,” he said.
“Then I hope they don’t change it on us.”
The Reed City Area Public Schools district stand to lose some $34,000 from an estimated $680,000 in federal funding that should be coming in to support educational programs.
“We have been told, and I am assuming the sequester order will not affect us this school year,” said RCAPS superintendent Steven Westhoff.
“We can’t be sure of that, but we assume this is true.
“We are certainly worried about next year.”
In very simple terms, the loss of $34,000 in the 2013-14 school year would most likely mean the loss of another position of employment.
“If we lose this funding, it most likely will result in another lost staff member,” said Westhoff. “Frankly, we are in a position in which we simply can’t afford to lose more people. We are already short of the number of staff we would like to have today.
“We need more people working with kids, not fewer people working with kids.”
Westhoff noted that there were not a lot of options for making up lost funding through federal dollars. Programs or personnel need to be cut determined by what grant or Title program is losing money.
“Because of the limitations on us, we would most likely be forced to cut a person,” he said. “That is the worst option.”
As with other school districts, however, there is no concrete or even substantial information available to administrators and planners so RCAPS would likely make cuts on the assumption of the worst case scenario - and then hire back if possible.
“It is a ridiculous situation,” said Westhoff.
“This is all just another example of how our legislators place so much importance on education,” he continued sarcastically.
Westhoff is pretty much resigned to the fact that there will be cuts.
At this stage, he is simply hoping there will be no more budget cuts on top of those that are already promised.
“We used to dream about progress and the development of new programs in education,” he said.
“Today, we dream about simply maintaining what we have.”