Sequestration in the schools

3/1/2013

Cuts could hit local special ed programs

Cuts could hit local special ed programs

By RACHAEL GRAY

rgray@gctelegram.com

With less funding from the state over the past few years, Kansas schools have had to cut programs and people. If the across-the-board federal cuts become a reality, schools could suffer again.

For the state of Kansas, sequestration could mean $5.5 million less for elementary and secondary schools, according to the Kansas Association of School Boards. That would mean the potential for a 5 percent reduction in federal funds allotted each year for Garden City USD 457, which would be about a $273,000 reduction, according to Superintendent Rick Atha.

The programs most affected would be special education and Title I, Atha and Darren Dennis, assistant superintendent for learning services, said Thursday.

Title I and special education offer programs to support students who have learning needs. They offer support to teachers in regular core instruction, Dennis said.

The district employs 22 certified Title I teachers and four paras. For special education, the district has 49.16 full-time equivalency positions.

"We're in the people business. It will start affecting teachers, paras and administrators," Atha said.

Dennis said if the cuts happen, they will take effect for the 2013-14 school year.

"What it would mean is it would be more difficult to provide differentiated support for kids who need extra help," he said.

Atha and Dennis said if the cuts do happen, school officials will have to plan ahead and make certain decisions in May before teacher contracts are issued.

"Anytime we lose funding, it will in turn be translated into a loss of educational services for kids," Atha said.

Atha and Dennis both said that although funds may be tighter, the district still will be required — or expected — to provide the same services.

"Anytime you lose funds, the educational expectations don't decrease. We will be expected to provide the same services with less funding," Atha said.

Dennis said if funding for those programs is lost, it would mean more work for fewer teachers.

"We would have to spread that out so there would be fewer people working with more kids. And some of it would fall back onto classroom teachers," Dennis said.

With the implementation of Common Core curriculum, student standards will be raised, Atha said.

"It will be cause for more rigor and more accountability on teachers, paras and administrators," he said.

Atha said school officials will go through program budgeting to prepare the budget for next school year.

"And we may have this piece to deal with — the $273,000 — and then we're still in a holding pattern with the state of Kansas to determine whether funding will be there next year," he said.

The district also could suffer cuts to its migrant and Title III programs. The migrant program has 6.5 teaching positions and 15 para positions. The Title III program — the federal bilingual program — has 3.5 positions.

Dennis said Title III is for students who are new to the U.S.

Eleven percent of USD 457's budget comes from federal funds, and 62 percent from state aid.

"When you're talking about the sequester, you're talking 11 percent of our budget being cut 5 percent in those areas, roughly," Atha said. Dennis said through past cuts and budget woes, the district has been able to maintain class sizes.

"I don't know how much longer we can do that. It will depend on the outcome of this," Dennis said.

Dennis said tools are being taken away from the district.

"Our mission is to educate kids. That mission continues. We will do the best to provide the best service we can provide, regardless of the outcome of this. What's happening is tools are being taken away from being able to provide that ... We're going to do our best to be able to give the best to our students," he said.

Florence Wilson Elementary School Principal Connie Pracht already lost a half teacher position in special education and two paras and a half teacher in Title I for the current school year.

Those cuts were due to reductions in Title I funds and redistributing of resources after district boundaries were redrawn, Dennis said.

Title I is a federal program while special ed is funded through the federal and state governments, Dennis said.

"There's just some things we can't do because of less staff. We have reassigned some things. We've had to make more changes and do the same with less. Everyone has had to pick up a little more slack," Pracht said.

Pracht said the potential for more cuts is scary.

"It's very troublesome. The less staff you have, the less services you can provide for the kids who need it," she said.

The potential cuts the automatic across-the-board cuts may bring may affect preschool educational programs as well.

Eric Pommier, Kansas Children Service League, said under sequestration Head Start is slated to suffer a 5.1 percent.

"As information from Washington is murky, at best, regarding the process to be followed in realizing cuts within programs, any understanding of local impact is a 'best guess.' Within KCSL, a 5.1 percent cut results in nearly $320,000. A large question remaining to be answered is the time frame in which these cuts must be made. A $320,000 cut within our current grant year could result in an immediate closure, due to less than 17 percent of our grant year remaining," he said.

Pommier said that would result in laying off 87 employees until the next grant cycle, and 559 children would lose access to Head Start and Early Head Start near the middle of the school year across the state.

"A $320,000 cut within the remaining federal fiscal year would result in no less than a reduction in force of 12 full-time employees and 60 children losing access to Head Start and Early Head Start services," he said.

According to the Associated Press, Kansas would lose $5.5 ââmillion in funding for elementary and secondary schools, which the White House said would put about 80 teacher jobs and aide positions at risk. The state also would lose about $5.3ââ million in funding for an additional 60 teachers, aides and staff who provide services to children with disabilities.

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