Sequester impacting local school budgets

The federal spending cuts known as the sequester are taking bites of four to six digits out of local schools’ budgets.

“I’m going to lose about $109,000 in fiscal year 2014,” said Lori Snyder-Lowe, superintendent of Morgan Local Schools. “It’s hurting our high-poverty and special needs children the most.”

The sequester – a series of automatic budget cuts that went into effect after Congress could not agree on alternatives – is expected to cost the state $65.7 million in 14 different programs. Those programs support programs in local schools like special education, reading and math intervention, preschool, after-school and migrant education.

The reading and math intervention and special education funds are where most local districts are feeling the effects. Districts contacted Friday said there are currently no plans to cut staffing as a result of the cuts, but some changes will have to be made to the services and accompanying professional development.

“Now we’ll either not be able to do it or the general fund will pick it up,” said Melcie Wells, treasurer for the Fort Frye and Warren Local school districts.

Wells noted that districts are required to have a certain number of special education teachers, so there’s only so far they could cut there anyway.

Warren stands to lose a little over $70,000, while Fort Frye is expected to see about a $31,500 reduction.

Snyder-Lowe said Morgan doesn’t expect to cut any jobs at this time, but more of those salaries may have to come from the general fund. The purchase of supplies, devices like tablets and computer programs aimed at assisting children in need of additional help will be curtailed, she said.

The Frontier Local school district is losing $60,000 in Title I funds alone, money that supported the salaries of two teachers who provide targeted assistance to students in need of extra help with math and reading. The board and administration decided to keep those two teachers on staff in spite of the cuts, which turned out to be larger than anticipated.

Frontier is also losing $20,000 in other funds, according to data provided by Treasurer Frank Antill.

Money is allocated to schools based on enrollment and the percentage of their population considered economically disadvantaged, among other factors. Enrollment may play a part in Frontier’s reductions, but it’s not the main driver, Antill said.

“The biggest part of the funding decline in 2013 to 2014 was the sequester,” he said in an email Friday.

The smallest loss locally is apparently in the Wolf Creek Local district, which is on pace to get $13,000 less in Title I and other federal funds but $5,000 more than last year in special education money, Treasurer Rachel Miller said.

The Ohio Department of Education recently announced it is allocating $19 million to help offset the cuts, but local school officials did not know Friday how much they might receive.

According to a release from ODE, $8 million was originally earmarked for Title I math and reading programs at community schools that have now closed. According to federal guidelines, that money will go to the traditional school district where the community schools were located.

The remaining $11 million is from special education funds that were not drawn down in previous years. Those dollars will be distributed among all districts based on a federal funding formula.