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Sequestration would hurt area schools, educators say

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Posted: Monday, October 1, 2012 4:30 am

While most area residents may hear the term “sequestration” and immediately think of its effect on the city’s military population, the mandatory federal budget cuts set to begin in early January if Congress takes no action also would have a major impact on Central Texas schools as well.

“It would have a very negative impact on the district,” said Robert Muller, superintendent for the Killeen Independent School District.

“Sequestration” is the term federal lawmakers use to describe the process of withholding money from federal programs. President Barack Obama signed into law the Budget Control Act of 2011, which created a Joint Select Committee, nicknamed the supercommittee, made up of members of House and Senate Democrats and Republicans, and charged them with finding $1.2 trillion in cuts over the next 10 years.

The committee failed to come to an agreement on the cuts, thus triggering the sequestration, which is set to begin Jan. 1, if lawmakers cannot find some kind of resolution.

The sequestration triggers $1.2 trillion in mandatory cuts over the next 10 years, half of which will come from defense and half from domestic programs, including education.

The Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan office that advises Congress on the implications of its proposals, estimated that sequestration would mean a cut of about 8 percent to all education programs.

Muller said that sequestration would have an immediate impact on the district’s budget for the 2013-14 school year. The cuts would cost the school an estimated $5 million in federal Impact Aid, not counting cuts to other federal funding such as Title I and special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

If sequestration becomes a reality, Muller said the district would have to factor the cuts into next year’s budget, which is already being discussed a few months into the current school year. Muller said the district would have to go though a similar budget process used for the last two years, when the state Legislature approved steep cuts to education funding.

“We’ve been through a round of (budget) reductions already, so (sequestration) would cue the process back up again,” said Muller. “We’d take a look at everything, to create a budget that factors in those cuts.”

At a Sept. 27 workshop meeting, Muller told the district’s board of trustees that KISD might have to dip into its fund balance to cover some of the cuts if sequestration becomes a reality.

“It really creates some complications for us,” Muller told board members.

Cove ISD concerns

Killeen isn’t the only district worried about sequestration.

Robert Edmonson, the executive director of business services for the Copperas Cove Independent School District, said his district would lose an estimated $1.5 million if sequestration occurs.

Because the cuts occur over a 10-year period, the district would lose another $1.2 million the following year and continue to see the cuts each year moving forward.

Edmonson said the Cove district is prepared to deal with the sequestration.

“We budgeted for the sequestration cuts this year,” said Edmonson. “That’s why our budget was so tight.”

Defense cuts could hurt districts

On top of the cuts to education, the cuts to defense may also have an adverse effect on Killeen ISD and other districts with a high population of military students.

“Really, it depends on how those cuts affect Fort Hood,” Muller said. “If we see less troops at Fort Hood, we could see less students because those numbers are highly correlated.”

Edmonson said as the contracts at Fort Hood decrease, it will impact the economy of the entire area.

“In education, this will impact Title 1 and IDEA (special education),” Edmonson said. “This will mean loss of jobs, quality education and a strong military.”

For Killeen, Cove and districts across the nation, there is little they can do to prevent the sequestration cuts from occurring at the beginning of next year. In the end, it is up to lawmakers in Congress to pass a balanced deficit-reduction measure.

However, division and partisan bickering in Washington have made a resolution highly unlikely before the January deadline.

“Right now, there is no discussion,” said Killeen ISD’s chief financial adviser, Megan Bradley, who recently returned from a conference in Washington, D.C., with other district officials and board members and spoke at the Sept. 27 workshop. “I saw no rosy picture at all.”

In the end, the district is doing what it can to convince legislators to do what is needed to avoid the cuts. At the workshop, Muller presented the board with a draft resolution that states the district “strongly opposes” sequestration and calls on Congress to “recognize the importance of the Impact Aid Program in ensuring that federally connected children receive a high-quality public education by fully funding the Impact Aid Program.”

“It’s a matter of communicating with those who have opportunity to impact the direction and make the needed changes to avoid (the cuts),” said Muller.

The Killeen board is expected to vote on the resolution at its October regular meeting.

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