Schools see cuts ahead if Congress can’t reach deal

For students in Marysville, there’s a $482,000 reason why Congress should avoid pushing the nation off the “fiscal cliff.”

That’s how much federal funding the school district stands to lose if federal lawmakers and President Barack Obama don’t strike a deficit reduction deal before automatic cuts kick in Jan. 1.

Monday evening Marysville School District directors unanimously passed a resolution urging Washington’s representatives to prevent those cuts, known as sequestration, which “would harm our neediest students and communities and our future competitiveness and economic stability.”

“We don’t want our congressional delegation to feel that (the money) isn’t needed. It is needed,” Marysville Superintendent Larry Nyland said Monday prior to the board vote. “If they don’t make up the money at some time, some place we would feel it.”

Cuts in federal spending on education, defense, social services, health care and other programs will automatically go into effect Jan. 1, barring action by Congress to reduce the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion.

Public schools across the country face an estimated 8.2 percent reduction in federal funding for Title I programs for the disadvantaged and Title II school improvement grants as well as special education and career and technical education programs.

In Washington, this could amount to as much as $49.6 million in the 2013-14 school year though up to $3.5 million of the sum could be lost in the current school year, according to figures from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Those dollars are allocated through the program known as Impact Aid that compensates school districts containing a large amount of federal land or reservation land because they are “financially burdened by federal activities.”

While most of the hit would not come until the next school year, the prospect of losing money, which likely cannot be backfilled by local or state tax dollars, is motivating school boards around the state such as Marysville to spotlight the potential fiscal impact.

Similar resolutions have been passed by districts in King, Pierce, Yakima and Lincoln counties, according to information from the National School Boards Association and the Washington State School Directors Association.

More boards may be acting in the coming days.

“It is getting very close. We all need to take it very seriously,” said Marie Sullivan, director of governmental relations for the state school directors group. “It is significant for their bottom lines, and it is not something they can make up,”

Sullivan said the loss of federal money would only compound the challenge of state lawmakers who are under orders from the state Supreme Court to better fund public schools.

In Snohomish County, where every school district faces a potential loss, Marysville is the first district where the board passed a resolution.

“We’re looking at the numbers. We’re not at the point of taking any board action,” said Arlene Hulten, director of communication for the Lake Stevens School District.

Similarly, Everett School District leaders aren’t following the path of their neighbors either but are keeping close tabs on the debate in Congress.

“So much is unknown,” said district spokeswoman Mary Waggoner. “We just know sequestration is not a good thing.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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