Programs serving thousands of Palm Beach County’s neediest public school students could lose millions of dollars next school year if Friday’s automatic federal budget cuts take effect.
While officials said Tuesday they plan to minimize the effect on poor and special needs children from the loss of nearly $7 million in federal grant money, it will require taking money earmarked for a long list of other school needs — such as added police.
“It will have to come from somewhere else, and we can’t afford that,” school board member Marcia Andrews said. “(Right now) we’re breaking even just to survive.”
The roughly $85 billion in cuts known as “the sequester” would hit nationwide as federal government programs would be forced to cut back under a 2011 budget deal between Congress and President Barack Obama. Education funding would only be cut by $4 billion, but local school officials argue that the result would be painful.
School board officials sounded the alarm Tuesday. “While cuts for most education programs won’t take place immediately, school districts have begun to issue pink slips to teachers and other employees for next year in anticipation of the cuts that will be made,” according to a statement released Tuesday by the National School Boards Association.
On Sunday, the White House outlined a state-by-state analysis of the budget cuts’ effects. Florida schools, for example, could lay off as many as 750 teachers and aides as a result of the cuts, according to the analysis.
No teacher positions appear to be in danger in Palm Beach County, but school district lobbyist Vern Pickup-Crawford estimated Tuesday that the cuts would cost local public schools about $4 million for “Title I” programs targeting low-income students and about $2 million for special needs students. The district also stands to lose about $500,000 for teacher training, and $250,000 for instructional materials for non-English speaking students, he said.
Andrews was particularly concerned about the possible loss of Title I dollars, which pay for extra reading programs, math coaches and tutoring at the 136 district schools that have a high number of low-income students.
Without those extra educational services, Andrews said, those students would likely fall farther behind.
“We’re just hoping that the Congress and the administration come together and do something,” Andrews said. “It would be devastating to lose those funds.”
But Mike Burke, the district’s chief operating officer, said in anticipation of the cuts the district has built up a small reserve fund for Title I programs. It was built up by putting off some planned programs.
The reserve should be enough, district officials said, to cover any losses for next school year without having to cut any core programs. But officials were less sure what the impact would be on students if the Title I cuts were to continue.
Losing $2 million for special needs students could be even more difficult. That money pays for positions such as classroom aides.
But school board member Karen Brill pointed out that state and federal law requires the district to provide services such as classroom aides to special needs students if their individual educational plans say they need those services to learn.
Burke agreed that the district is required to provide those services regardless of funding. That would mean taking local and state funds from elsewhere in the budget that could have been used for more police at schools.
“If we’re forced to deal with it, we can,” Burke said. “That may come at the expense of something else in the budget.”
Schools projected cuts
What the Palm Beach County School District estimates it will lose if the automatic federal budget cuts go through on Friday:
— $4 million in grants to pay for supplemental educational programs, teachers, reading coaches and tutoring at the district’s 136 “Title I” schools that have a high percentage of low income students. The district received about $49 million this year.
— $2 million for services such as classroom aides for 28,000 special needs students. This year, the district received about $36 million.
— $500,000 for professional development and training in core subjects, and educational strategies for the district’s 12,000 teachers. The district received about $7 million this year.
— $250,000 for instructional materials for the district’s 25,000 non-English speaking students. This year, the district received about $3 million.
Source: Palm Beach County School District.