Schools Looking Closely at Possible Sequestration Impacts

Districts across New Jersey await state aid figures this week with uncertainty.

The Warren school district faces the deadline to submit the 2013-2014 budget to the county next week with uncertainty as to whether $85 billion in federal "sequestration" spending cuts will be stopped by Congress before Friday. 

And while districts will learn their state aid figures this week after Gov. Chris Christie delivers his fiscal year 2014 budget address Tuesday afternoon, local officials have already considered how to address the federal budget situation in their budgets.

Watchung Hills Regional Business Administrator Tim Stys said at the Feb. 18 board of education meeting that the district is currently budgeting $100,000 less in federal aid than in previous years.

"We have in the budget a decrease of $100,000 or so," he said. "We were told by the county office to be as conservative as you wish so they're telling us 75 percent of what we were getting."

Warren Township Schools Business Administrator Patricia Leonhardt said Monday she was advised by county and state officials to budget 85 percent of the amount of federal funding received last year—which is actually the recommendation she said is given every year.

"If they tell us to budget at 85 percent, then I would infer that means they are comfortable with us receiving the money," she said.

For both districts, the bulk of the federal aid comes in the form of IDEA grants, which are for mandated special education programs, and grants aimed at benefiting low-income students. 

The release of the state aid figures triggers a sequence of events related to the budget process, as the budget is due to the county for review March 7.

New Jersey could lose nearly $12 million in funding for primary and secondary education if Congress fails to halt the “sequestration” by Friday, according to figures released by the White House. 

"I am sure it would affect us, but I have no idea how much," Somerset County Freeholder Peter Palmer said Monday.

Palmer said he believes that estimating the impact is meaningless at this point.

"Something will happen between now and Friday," he said.

Palmer added that he believes something must be done to address federal spending, but he wouldn't be surprised if the issue is pushed off into the future again.

Palmer, a Republican, also said he believes the Obama administration is aiming the cuts at areas that would hurt the most people, so as to create the most public opposition to proposed spending reductions.

"That's the way the game is played," he said.

Rep. Leonard Lance, R-7, said Monday that he would support the across-the-board cuts taking effect on Friday as planned.

"I am among those who support a more laser-like approach toward reducing spending and our national debt that exceeds $16 trillion," he said.

"Republican voted twice, in May and December of last year, to replace the current sequester with smarter, more targeted cuts," he added. "Yet the President opposed those efforts and for his part has failed to put forth serious, credible alternative. I certainly believe the president needs to show more leadership on this issue."

Without action from Congress, the sequester would go into effect automatically on March 1, reducing spending by the state in a number of areas, including education, the environment, health, military and law enforcement, the White House said.

The cuts, according to the Obama administration, could jeopardize 160 teacher and aide jobs in New Jersey, as well as cut funding to 60 schools and 15,000 students.

Funding would be cut to the early childhood education program Head Start, vaccination programs for children and health services for seniors, among other things, and thousands of civilian Department of Defense employees could be furloughed, according to the White House.

The total federal spending cuts under the sequester add up to about $1.2 trillion over the next nine years.

Republicans have accused the president of using the impending cuts for political gain.

President Barack Obama's plan asks for increased tax revenues to offset some of the trillion-dollar cuts.


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