No layoffs expected for teachers if sequestration hits

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 27, 2013 

Mid-Columbia school officials said they don't anticipate laying off teachers because of looming federal budget cuts, but students still will be affected.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars are on the chopping block for educational programs and services in the region because of sequestration -- a series of budget reductions authorized by Congress in 2011. The cuts take effect Friday unless federal lawmakers take action.

School officials said they can absorb the cuts for now, though it's never easy to take a hit, especially late in the school year. However, some districts will be affected more than others, as federal money goes to students most in need of extra help, such as the poor and disabled.

"It's definitely a disappointment and a loss," said Pasco Schools Superintendent Saundra Hill.

Sequestration is set to cut funding for K-12 education by about 5 percent, or roughly $11.6 million, across the state, according to President Obama's administration. That doesn't include cuts to other programs, such as an $11.2 million reduction to programs for disabled children and $9 million from Head Start, a pre-kindergarten program for children from low-income families.

District officials said they've anticipated the budget reductions for months.

Lorraine Cooper, spokeswoman for the Kennewick School District, said her district's schools will be relatively unfazed, thanks to a rainy day fund the district can pull from to cover the couple hundred thousand dollars it could lose.

"What could be rainier than what's going on in Congress right now?" she asked.

Even if services and programs have to be reduced, Hill said layoffs really aren't an option for absorbing the cuts, which will be more than $460,000 for Pasco schools.

"Once you issue contracts, you have to pay the contracts," she said.

The cuts did mean sacrifices earlier on, such as restricting hiring before the school year to ensure there would be money on hand or digging into other accounts. All those things mean fewer resources and attention for individual students, officials said.

Erich Bolz, assistant superintendent for special programs in the Richland School District, said he anticipates programs for disabled students will lose about $200,000 with the cuts. The programs already run at a $1.8 million deficit because money from the state and federal governments isn't enough.

"This really puts the screws to us a little tighter," he said.

But even with foresight and scrimping, some children will be directly affected by the federal budget cuts. Benton Franklin Head Start will have to stop serving the families of 29 children to accommodate the funding loss.

The Wapato School District between Prosser and Yakima has already had to trim millions from its budget in recent years because of state budget reductions. District officials said in a press release that millions more could be cut from basic education and from bilingual and migrant programs if sequestration goes through.

"If Congress allows the automatic cuts to happen on March 1, the district will again be forced to make some very difficult decisions as it begins its work on the 2013-2014 budget," according to the release.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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