The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

National and world

March 2, 2013

Budget cuts to hit military school districts first

FORT HOOD, Texas — Public schools everywhere will be affected by the government's automatic budget cuts, but few may feel the funding pinch faster than those on and around military bases.

School districts with military ties from coast-to-coast are bracing for increased class sizes and delayed building repairs. Others already have axed sports teams and even eliminated teaching positions, but still may have to tap savings just to make it through year's end.

But there's little hope for softening any future financial blows.

"Next year is scarier than this year," said Sharon Adams, chief financial officer for Muscogee County schools in Georgia. The district serves the U.S. Army's Fort Benning and could lose $300,000 in federal funding out of its $270 million in general funds before the end of the school — and more than four times that in 2013-2014.

The schools' losses will come from cuts to a federal program known as "Impact Aid" that supplements local property tax losses for districts that cover federal land, including military posts and Indian tribal areas. About 1,400 school districts serving roughly 11 million children nationwide — including nearly 376,500 students from military families — benefit from the aid, said Jocelyn Bissonnette, director of government affairs for the Washington-based National Association of Federally Impacted Schools.

Bissonnette said slightly more than 5 percent of funding would disappear from nearly all U.S. Department of Education programs under the automatic cuts. But while most of the reductions wouldn't take effect until next fall, Impact Aid could be immediately cut, with many districts failing to receive a scheduled payment in March.

In all, the U.S. Department of Education estimates districts receiving Impact Aid could see $60 million evaporate this school year.

"Classrooms will be fuller," said Sara Watson, principal of 810-student Meadows Elementary on Fort Hood, one of the world's largest military installations. Watson stressed that she doesn't yet know the full impact, but said an extra teacher for fifth and sixth grade science hired this year could be reassigned — which may mean squeezing kids into fewer classes.

Ninety-nine percent of parents at Meadows are in the military and a quarter of the teachers are married to active-duty personnel. But the campus is run by the school district in the surrounding community of Killeen, which has 52 campuses in all — including seven elementary and two middle schools on Fort Hood and about total 42,000 students.

As soldiers return from Iraq and Afghanistan, enrollment has swelled, increasing by 1,200 students annually in recent years — though next year likely will only see 500 additional students.

Overall, the district stands to lose at least $2.6 million in Impact Aid funding before the end of the school year under the automatic cuts. Superintendent Robert Mueller said the cuts amount to more than 50 teachers' salaries, roughly one per school, or five months' worth of district's electric bills — and may mean tapping into Killeen's cash reserves to cover expenses.

Other military districts have made pre-emptive cuts that now may not be enough.

In San Antonio, Randolph Field school district educates about 1,200 students from military families at the local Air Force base of the same name and draws 45 percent of its budget from Impact Aid. Officials this year eliminated high school math and science teaching positions and cut baseball, cross-country and swimming.

But even then, the district expected to get $5.3 million in Impact Aid. Randolph Field may now get about $1 million less — meaning it will have to use reserve funds to finish the year.

"If we get it, we'll end the year in the black," Lorrie Remick, the district's chief financial officer, said of the year's final Impact Aid payment. "If not, we'll have a deficit for the first time in our history."

In North Carolina, Cumberland County Schools superintendent Frank Till, whose district has a total budget of $450 million and includes Fort Bragg, said he may forfeit about $800,000 for the remainder of the fiscal year — but that his primary concern is what might happen next year, when the district could be out about $3.2 million.

"If October comes and they've not restored our money, we'll have to completely eliminate schools from service and certainly have to cut back on staffing," Till said. "We'll have to cut back services to some of our most disadvantaged kids."

He volunteered some advice to policymakers: "Go out to Camp David and don't come back until you have a plan."

Ronald Walker, superintendent of Geary County Schools USD 475 in Kansas, which serves Fort Riley, offered a harsher sentiment: "I think it's arrogant for leaders to turn their backs on our soldiers."

Walker anticipated an Impact Aid cut as the country flirted with the "fiscal cliff" in January, so delayed repairs on school roofs and air conditioning systems. But the coming funding reductions look worse than he prepared for — likely meaning living with longstanding school plumbing problems

"I'm just going to ignore them," Walker said, "and hope."

__

Associated Press writers Michael Biesecker in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia, contributed to this report.

 

1
Text Only
National and world
  • CDC Ebola web.jpg U.S. warns against traveling to Ebola-hit countries

    “The bottom line is Ebola is worsening in West Africa,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who announced the travel warning.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Mideast web.jpg Gaza truce comes after days of pushing for a deal

    Finally, less than an hour after all sides signed off on the precise and technical wording for a 72-hour truce, Kerry issued a statement and called a 3:30 a.m. Friday press conference to seal the deal before any party could back out.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Taiwan web.jpg Gas explosions kill 24, injure 271 in Taiwan

    The fires were believed caused by a leak of propene, a petrochemical material not intended for public use, but the source of the gas was not immediately clear, officials said.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • Congress web.jpg Congress races to finish VA, highway bills

    House Speaker John Boehner accused Democrats of pursuing a “nutso scheme” of trying to seize on the border crisis to try and grant a path to citizenship to millions of immigrants living in the country illegally.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • Illinois Unemployment_Hass.jpg As U.S. job market strengthens, many don't feel it

    "If the economy is getting better, I'm not sure for whom. It certainly hasn't trickled down to me." — Douglas Hunter, who earned $14 an hour before the Great Recession and now works three days a week for $9.25 an hour, mopping floors and fixing fryers at McDonald's.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • House Obama Lawsuit.jpg Republican-led House approves lawsuit against President Obama

    Just a day before lawmakers were to begin a five-week summer recess, debate over the proposed lawsuit underscored the harshly partisan tone that has dominated the current Congress almost from its start in January 2013.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • Russia Putin web.jpg Sanctions could damage Russia

    The sanctions go further than earlier penalties — which had largely targeted individuals — by broadly limiting the trade of weapons and of technology that can be used in the oil and military industries. The EU also put its capital markets off-limits to Russian state-owned banks.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • Mideast Libya web.jpg Thousands flee to Tunisia to escape Libya fighting

    Many diplomats, including the U.S. ambassador, have pulled out of the country. With the interim government paralyzed, the fighting threatens the planned opening session of the newly elected parliament on Aug. 4.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Obit Robert Drew web.jpg Cinema verite documentarian Robert Drew dies

    Starting in 1960 with “Primary,” Drew produced and sometimes directed a series of television documentaries that took advantage of such innovations as light hand-held cameras that recorded sound and pictures.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Obama Ukraine Russia_Hass_W.jpg GOP-led House approves lawsuit against Obama

    The suit will contend that Obama has exceeded his constitutional powers in the way he has enforced the 2010 health care law.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

Featured Ads