OGDEN — Top of Utah school officials are worried about the impact of automatic federal spending cuts still on the table.
As part of the fiscal cliff negotiations, those cuts, originally scheduled to take effect Jan. 1 without congressional action, were postponed two months. If Congress doesn’t take action by that time, the cuts will go into effect.
Title I funding is on the docket to be cut by as much as 8 to 10 percent. Other programs, such as special education, school lunch and computer technology programs, are in danger of funding cuts as well.
“This makes it really difficult if we take the cut in March, because the school year really starts in July. That’s when our budget year starts,” said Chris Williams, spokesman for Davis School District. “It is really steep. The results are unfathomable.”
The Davis district has 18 Title I schools, Ogden district has 13 and Weber district six.
Davis district’s concern is that the district is reimbursed by the state each year for those funds, so the money has been spent to subsidize the schools, and if the state doesn’t get the funding from the federal government, it won’t be giving any to the districts, so cuts will have to be immediate.
“It puts everything on the table — administrative interns, tutors, class size. We will have to look at all of those areas,” he said in reference to budget cuts.
Misti Young, federal programs coordinator for the Ogden School District, said coordinators in the state were given a heads-up about the possible cuts from the state in September. Every year the district tries to carry over 15 percent of its Title I funding, but the state sequestered another 10 percent, kind of like a savings reserve, Young said.
She’s not sure it will be enough, and it definitely won’t help for next year.
“This will impact us greatly,” she said.
The Title I funding has been a huge factor in helping Ogden students succeed, because it allows for more tutoring, staff and extension activities for students who are affected economically.
Davis also has the 10 percent in reserve, but it won’t be enough and creates a bigger hole for next year. At least 86 to 89 percent of the district’s budget goes to salaries, so it is hard to have any kind of rainy day fund to draw from, Williams said.
“We really don’t have a rainy day fund,” he said.
Title I schools are identified as schools that have at least 40 percent of students on free and reduced-price lunch. That doesn’t automatically make the school is a Title I school. Each district decides which of its qualifying schools will be designated Title I schools.
However, if a school has 75 percent of its students on free and reduced-price lunch, it must be a Title I school.
Some schools in the Ogden district aren’t Title I schools, even though they meet the 40 percent criteria. Williams said that may end up being the case more and more throughout the state.
“We may have to change what schools get the funding,” Williams said.
Young said the Ogden district is working to get grants to pick up some of the slack, but many times the grants are individualized and won’t necessarily help Title I across the board.
Currently, Ogden district receives $3.6 million to $3.9 million per year for Title I. Williams said his district estimates it will lose $640,000 for Title I funding and up to $800,000 in cuts for special education.
Weber District spokesman Nate Taggart said the district is hoping Congress will act.
“We are in watch-and-wait mode,” Taggart said.
Some think the federal government may change eligibility requirements if they don’t extend the funding, he said.
The district is also concerned about possible cuts to the school lunch program and the computer and technology programs.
“Right now anyone who qualifies gets it,” Taggart said of the school lunch funding. “But that could change.”
In all three districts, there is some confusion as to what exactly will be cut.
Young said she understood that school lunch wouldn’t be touched, but she isn’t completely sure of that.
“It seems ironic that the federal government would cut funding to those that need it most,” Williams said.
He noted that the groups targeted are those that are in financial hardship, because those are the students that get Title I funds.
Cutting special education creates its own set of problems.
“It’s hard to cut programs that the federal government mandates,” Williams said. “What will happen is, we will have to cut general education.”
Young has been pleased with the support the state has given so far.
“They are aware of what’s going on and have been very supportive,” she said.
But that support can only go so far without money.
“It’s going to be a learning curve on how to sustain schools with less,” Young said. “We have good leaders that can think outside the box.”