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Federal aid drops; impacts Oak Harbor schools
The Oak Harbor School District expects to receive about $4.2 million from Federal Impact Aid this year, down from $5 million in 2009 and $5.4 million in 2007.
Impact Aid is estimated to continue to decrease by $270,000 next year and another $230,000 the year after that, said Joe Hunt, school district communications director.
Impact Aid funding represents 9 percent of school district revenue, Hunt said.
The total national amount of money Congress can appropriate to school districts hasn’t changed but the amount going to certain districts will change, Hunt said.
“There’s going to be less money. That seems fairly certain to me, based on what Congress might do,” Superintendent Rick Schulte said, adding that Impact Aid funding has its ups and downs and has been down before.
“We have to either find ways to find alternate revenues or cut costs,” Schulte said.
In most places, property taxes pay more than half the cost of schools. Impact Aid is provided by Congress because families living on federally-owned land don’t pay property taxes. Impact Aid is important in Oak Harbor because a large amount of property is owned by the government at the Navy base, Hunt said.
“Impact Aid is one reason Oak Harbor enjoys a lower local levy than in other cities,” Peter Hunt, school board member, said.
Since Impact Aid money goes into the general fund, it’s used to fill holes in the budget not covered by other money. Impact Aid dollars affect teacher and staff pay and benefits, transportation, books and equipment, and funds approximately 95 percent of athletic programs, Schulte said.
“Impact Aid is the only thing left that we can fund sports with and plug holes in the budget,” Pete Hunt said.
There was a dip in Impact Aid funding in the early 1990s. At that time, there was no local levy but state funding wasn’t decreasing like it is now.
“What we did is said ‘stop spending money, period.’ Anything not required by law or contract we didn’t spend. ... Everything lived exactly within its budget,” Schulte said.
The traditional unreliability of the arrival of Impact Aid checks makes it difficult to budget. The government still owes the school district some funds from the past three fiscal years, amounting to approximately $1 million, Schulte said. The final check for this year’s funds isn’t expected until 2013.
“Oak Harbor School District does a great job of educating our kids with what resources we have. But the problem is, we could do better with more resources,” School Board member Dave McCool said.
“We want to keep a low tax rate here. The levy lid is 28 percent and we are nowhere near what we could collect because we respect the community’s need to collect low taxes,” Hunt said. “Success means different things to each student and we’re focused on giving each child the things they need to be successful. But all these programs are subject to sacrifice with each dollar cut.”
Schulte said he expects this discussion to last all year, in preparation for redoing the levy in 2013.
To discuss issues like this, the Oak Harbor School Board put a new workshop format into effect to include community members in a round-table discussion. The first school board meeting of each month will use this format.
Next month’s workshop topic is replacing textbooks and technology. Textbooks haven’t been replaced for years due to budget constraints.