Whidbey schools prepare for ‘fiscal cliff’

Spending reductions and tax increases associated with the pending federal “fiscal cliff” could hit the pocketbook of the Oak Harbor School District.

School officials are bracing for about $1 million in reductions should federal lawmakers fail to reach an agreement by the end of the year to avert across the board spending cuts and tax increases that are scheduled to take place in coming weeks.

Rick Schulte, superintendent of the Oak Harbor School District, said the school district will see an immediate reduction of approximately $500,000 in Impact Aid funding. Impact Aid is a federal pot of money for school districts that have significant populations of students from military families or from Indian reservations. Those students often live on federal lands, which don’t pay local property taxes and place a financial burden on the local school district.

“The challenge is the cut to Impact Aid will take place in the middle of the year,” Schulte said. He said the reduction to Impact Aid will take place immediately, which is after officials had already set the school year budget and already made decisions about staffing.

The Oak Harbor School District is budgeting to receive just over $4 million in federal dollars and the district received $4.5 million in Impact Aid during the previous school year. Schulte noted the federal funding has declined in recent years. In 2007, the school district received approximately $6 million in Impact Aid.

Impact Aid isn’t the only federal funding source that will be affected by the “fiscal cliff.”

Schulte said he is expecting around a $500,000 reduction in special education. He said that reduction won’t be felt until next year because the allocation for the current school year has already been made.

That reduction would affect the district’s most needy students and provide a severe challenge, Schulte said.

Schulte lobbied legislators in Washington D.C. in September, but said they didn’t have any solutions for the situation.

In Coupeville, officials are expecting to see reductions in funding in federal programs, such as learning assistance and Title I, but Superintendent Karen Koschak said she didn’t have a firm dollar amount.

Because the federal dollars fund essential programs, the Coupeville School District will have to transfer dollars earmarked for such things as textbook adoptions and staff development, Koschak said.

Schulte said $1 million in expenditures is frozen and won’t be made until things improve. Those expenditures include custodial and maintenance supplies and classroom supplies.

“We will not spend it until we know we have it,” Schulte said.


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