Tulsa-area schools weighing cuts
BY ANDREA EGER & KIM ARCHER World Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
2/27/13 at 6:53 AM
Area school districts anticipate the future loss of an estimated $12.2 million in federal revenue for Oklahoma schools if Congress doesn't reach a budget deal by Friday.
Of that amount, the White House estimates that $7.3 million is earmarked for special education, while the rest is for schools with large populations of low-income children.
Trish Williams, chief financial officer at Tulsa Public Schools, said the losses wouldn't be realized until the 2013-14 academic year, so next year's budget would have to be adjusted accordingly. Still, the bulk of the cuts would be in funding sources for the service of their "neediest students."
"Our most current projections indicate a reduction in funds for TPS of just under $1.8 million," Williams said.
In total, the federal budget sequestration, or automatic reductions, would curtail $85 billion in government spending through the end of this fiscal year, Sept. 30. The deadline is looming even as the president and congressional Republicans argue over how to reduce spending by $1.2 trillion over the next decades.
Earlier this week, the White House issued dramatic warnings about the possibility of teacher layoffs and cuts to Individuals with Disabilities Education Act special education programs and Title I program funding for low-income children.
But four of Oklahoma's five Republican U.S. representatives claim that the Obama administration is overstating the severity of the cuts.
A new Associated Press analysis states that the "sky-is-falling" warnings amount to a lot of hype and that for most Americans the impact won't be felt unless "the impasse drags on for months."
Union Superintendent Cathy Burden said it is frustrating not to have concrete information about the extent of the cuts and the specific federal programs that will be affected.
"Of course, we don't know the real number," she said. "I am very concerned that we don't have good estimates. Based on an 8 percent cut, the loss would be $1,040,000 for us. That's about 20 jobs or the equivalent in services to kids."
Burden said school administrators "see this as coming at an incredibly bad time in light of other funding cuts from the state."
Union Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Debra Jacoby said the district currently receives about $13 million in grants from the federal government and that the first priority would be to protect jobs.
"Those are the people who directly serve our students," she said. "It is going to harm the classroom and our most vulnerable students, to some degree, because federal funds are used above and beyond what we can with local and state resources to provide services to students who qualify."
Jenks Public Schools could see as much as a $400,000 reduction in federal aid if the cuts take effect, said Chief Financial Officer Cody Way.
Sand Springs Superintendent Lloyd Snow said any significant cuts could affect staffing in his district, because most federal funds flowing into school coffers are spent on salaries for employees who work directly with students.
His district could lose $93,544 in federal money, and that could mean the loss of at least one teacher and several aides next year, he said.
"The loss of federal funds on top of several years of state funding decreases just adds to our financial instability and overwhelming challenges meeting state and federal unfunded mandates," Snow said.
The impasse is just another example of politics prevailing over a willingness to work together for the good of the country, he said.
If 10 percent of Owasso Public Schools' federal funds were cut, it would amount to around $159,683, said David Boggs, the district's finance director. Those shortfalls particularly would affect special education students, he said.
But because special education is mandated by the federal government, school districts will have to make up federal funding shortfalls with local and state funds, and expenses would have to be cut in other areas, Boggs said.
"I'm not sure yet where those cuts will come from," he said. "I assume sequestration would impact our school lunch program, as well, and we have yet to decide how we would make that shortfall up."
Original Print Headline: Area schools weighing cuts
Andrea Eger 918-581-8470 Kim Archer 918-581-8315
Union Superintendent Cathy Burden