Wednesday, February 27, 2013

TOP STORY >> Schools brace for deep cuts after impasse

Leader senior staff writer

Former Pulaski County Special School District Superintendent Bobby Lester of Jacksonville, lured out of retirement and into the breech yet again, has been advising districts across the state how to prepare for anticipated funding cuts first surfaced during the fiscal cliff in January and now likely will kick in Friday.

“We don’t expect to have cuts this school year, which ends June 30,” according to Phyllis Stewart, chief of staff for state Education Department Commissioner Tom Kimbrell.

But differences in the federal fiscal year and the school fiscal year may cloud the issue.

Districts can carry over 15 percent of the Title I programs funds to offset some of the cuts, she said Tuesday.

The White House and Gov. Mike Beebe put the FY 2013 Arkansas cuts at about $11.5 million. But National Education Association figures, which include Head Start and numerous other programs, place that amount at about $26 million.


“Any cuts to education will be tough. We just want to help our school districts in planning so they can do the best they can with the funds that will be available to them,” said Stewart, formerly PCSSD’s assistant to the superintendent.

She said cuts will affect special-education funding, and the school improvement program.

“I don’t see a major impact hitting this district this year,” said PCSSD chief financial officer Bill Goff. “There’s not any federal money lined up for construction. It could affect Head Start,” he said.

Goff said no employees would be sent packing and no programs will be cut before the end of the school year.


Because federal lands are not subject to property taxes, and property taxes are important to financing school districts, the federal government pays in-lieu-of tax money known as impact fees.

Impact fees to the district have averaged about $250,000 in recent years, but those funds, while tracked, go undesignated into the operating fund. If that money is reduced by approximately 5 percent, the cut would be about $12,500.

“We don’t want to commit it to anything critical,” the chief financial officer said, and that includes personnel and programs.

The district receives about $5.7 million in Title I money intended for use in programs to help low-income students, such as aftercare and free or reduced lunches. The cut to those programs would amount to about $567,000, he said.


“While that’s a problem, its not a problem until the 2013-2014 school year, because the federal funds for this year are already committed.”

In its assessment, the NEA — a teachers’ union — said the cuts threatened elimination of after-school programs, decimation of programs for homeless students, English language learners, and high-poverty, struggling schools.

It said the cuts would result in the loss of tens of thousands of education jobs nationally — at early childhood, elementary, secondary, and postsecondary levels.

Stewart said, based on information released by the White House Sunday evening, the state could lose about $5.9 million for primary and secondary education and another $5.6 million for education for children with disabilities, with the possible loss of about 70 teachers and aides.

But that’s not all the expected cuts. The National Education Association, based on fiscal year 2012, calculates that overall in federal education programs, Arkansas could lose about $26 million in fiscal year 2013 funding, affecting about 55,000 students and resulting in about 500 jobs lost.


Among the largest dollar cuts:

 $7.9 million to Title I funds would affect 13,900 students and could result in the loss of 95 jobs.

 $5.727 million in special education grants to states, affecting 2,635 students with the potential loss of 69 jobs.

 $3.85 million for Head Start Daycare, affecting 545 students with about 241 jobs lost.

 $2.5 million in vocational rehabilitation grants, affecting 1,060 students with 24 jobs potentially lost.

 $1.1 million in federal outreach and student services programs, affecting 1,160 students with the potential loss of 10 jobs.

 $1.2 million in improving teacher quality grants — no direct affect on students, 14 potential jobs lost.

Among other cuts, those affecting most students:

 Rural education, $242,000, 8,810 students.

 Federal supplemental educational opportunity grants, $236,000, 7,430 students.

 Federal work study $382,000, 5,060 students.

 Adult basic literacy, $298,000, 1,740 students.

 Career and technical education grants, $636,000, 6,760 students.

 English language acquisition grants, $160,000, 1,530 students.


“We have planned in advance for this since it was first brought to our attention last year. There would not be an immediate impact on the district that would cause any program or staff changes,” Cabot Superintendent Tony Thurman said.

“The long-term consequences would certainly not be positive. We would expect a significant cut to our federal programs funding. The amount that we would expect could not reasonably be covered by district operational funds. I would anticipate some changes may be necessary to those programs that are primarily or solely funded by federal funds,” Thurman said.

Thurman could not provide specifics on staffing and programs until the district started working through a preliminary budget.

The district receives $3,064,643 in federal funding.

Federal funds account for 2 percent of Cabot’s $172 million budget.

The district is allocated $1,062,448 in Title I funds to assist low-income students who are not performing at their grade level for all grade levels, $217,310 in Title II funds for professional development, $14,546 in Title III funding for English as a second language students and $1,770,338 in Title VI-B for special education.

Cabot also receives impact-aid funds based on the number of military family students, special education children in military families and children of civilian parents working on base.


“We have cut back on spending in case we are cut. We will be prepared,” Beebe Superintendent Belinda Shook said.

Will Beebe schools experience immediate cuts to school programs or employee layoffs if sequester happens?

“No, we planned for it when we budgeted. If they don’t pass it, we will have extra money to spend. However, it will mean about an estimated $60,000 to $70,000. It will mean less money and possible cuts, for sure next year,” Shook said.

Federal funding accounts for 5 percent of the Beebe School District’s $26.4 million budget.

This year the district was allocated $624,000 in Title I funding to assist low-income students who are not performing at their grade level. Beebe has a carryover of $95,000 from last year making the total budget for Title I funds $719,000.

The district cut Title I spending by 50 percent in preparation for possible federal budget cuts.

Beebe focuses Title I spending on pre-K through fourth grade to reach students having difficulties before advancing to upper grade levels. The funds are used to employ more teachers and staff, salaries, additional professional development, training and instruction, tutoring, parental involvement and to purchase new equipment and technology.

Title II funds are used for professional development and training. Beebe was allocated $112,312 this year.

Title VI-A funds are used by Beebe district as Title I funds for literacy coaches and materials. The district was allocated $62,808.

The Beebe district receives Title VI-B funds for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which sends money to special education students. The district received $593,929.

Leader staff writer Jeffrey Smith contributed to this report.