HAZARD — Sequester, sequestration, the “snowquester.” No matter what news channel has been on in the last few weeks, Americans have been bombarded with the fact that their country is on the brink of a financial meltdown.
The sequester, which took effect on March 1, is a set of automatic spending cuts — to the tune of $1.2 trillion over the next nine years — put into law by the Budget Control Act to apply pressure to Congress to come up with a more permanent plan for deficit reduction. This fiscal year, $85 billion worth of cuts are set to go into effect.
Now, however, analysts and federal government leaders are saying everything was blown out of proportion and the country will not really be as badly affected by the dreaded and legendary sequestration cuts as was thought — at least that’s how the view is from Capitol Hill.
Jody Maggard, financial director for the Perry County school district, has a much different view from his window.
“KDE (Kentucky Department of Education) said a 9 percent reduction in our Title I fund, that’s our largest allotment of federal program money,” Maggard, who just received the estimates a week ago, explained. “That’s approximately $500,000 for us, the total reduction, that’s not just the 9 percent, but overall that’s what we’ve been conservatively told to reduce our Title I, and that’s not including other federal programs we get.”
This is not the only district in the area facing such daunting numbers. Sandra Johnson, superintendent for the Hazard Independent School District, said her district, which has a substantially smaller budget than the county schools, has been given estimates for cuts both for next fiscal year and for the remainder of this fiscal year.
Johnson said the school board received an estimate for a 5 percent cut for this fiscal year, which ends in September 2013, and an additional 9 percent cut for the 2013-2014 fiscal school year, which begins this October.
“For the current year, if those cuts are accurate, we would lose roughly $45,500. [For next year], roughly that would be $73,000 in additional cuts,” Johnson said.
The Washington Post reports “the federal sequester requires the Education Department to cut $1.9 billion in aid to the nation’s 15,000 school districts.”
Districts across the nation are and have been preparing for these significant federal funding cuts since the announcement of a possible sequestration.
According to a survey conducted last month by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), 77.9 percent of school district superintendents surveyed said they would have to eliminate jobs as a result of the sequestration.
A quote from a superintendent from Kentucky who responded to the AASA survey shines a light on the encompassing effects the sequestration cuts will have on the education system as a whole.
“We must not forget the qualitative effect the sequester has on staff morale. No one seems to know for sure how deep or for how long the reductions will occur. It’s hard to motivate, challenge, and encourage at‐risk students, when you are worried about your current employment or already started to look out of uncertainty in the future.”
Both of Perry County’s districts face the task of deciding just what can and needs to be cut from the budget to make these federal cuts manageable, while still keeping the quality of education high.
“That’s what we’ve been working on this entire week, actually, is meeting with all the department heads, our district leadership team, trying to look at how the cuts are going to affect us, and how that will in turn reflect the decisions that we make,” Maggard said.
Most of the funds for Title I, which at this point will receive the largest cut for school districts, are slated for teachers’ salaries, Maggard explained. This does not mean the only option will be cutting positions, though.
“There will be cuts to Title I, and the majority of Title I goes to personnel, but that doesn’t mean that anyone’s going home,” Maggard said.
“We use that as a last resort. Hopefully, we will be able to absorb the cost somewhere else so that it doesn’t affect staffing,” he explained. “We are still very much in the planning processes and no decisions have been made.”
Johnson said she is also looking at ways to save money so the cuts won’t be felt so deeply when they come. However, with districts preparing for further cuts to federally funded programs and grants like GEAR UP, special education funds, and the Carl Perkins grant, which funds vocational classes for high school students, nothing is certain.
“Any money that we lose is significant,” Johnson said. “Right now it’s just a waiting game to see what actually trickles down to the local level.”