MONTPELIER — Long before the word became part of the national lexicon, Laurie Gossens had begun to study the meaning of “sequestration.”
As superintendent of a supervisory union that oversees schools in Northfield and Roxbury, Gossens keeps her eyes on the funding horizon. Along with fellow school administrators across the state, she was putting together a game plan for the across-the-board federal cuts more than a year ago.
“We were forewarned well in advance and knew we might not be able to rely on those funding streams,” Gossens said.
The planning, she said this week, will help insulate the three schools of Washington South Supervisory Union from the impacts of the cuts.
“I’m hoping the impact is relatively minor,” she said.
Experts say it’s too early to define with any precision the impact of sequestration on individual school districts in Vermont. Federal appropriations to public education vary annually, based on demographic trends.
But according to Bill Talbott, deputy education secretary, the state could experience a reduction in federal assistance of roughly 5 percent. And based on the latest allocation formula, that would see an $85 million federal appropriation cut by nearly $5 million.
In a state where public education costs this year will exceed $1.4 billion, the hit isn’t huge. But John Castle, superintendent of the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union, said the reductions will still be felt.
“We’ve followed this from its inception, in terms of the idea of sequestration, going back a year, and we built budgets anticipating it could happen,” Castle said. “So we made reductions across the board for areas we fund with federal dollars.”
The biggest hit will come in so-called Title I funding, where about two-thirds of the federal cuts will be focused. Castle said those dollars are often used for programs geared toward children in poverty.
Castle, whose district includes six elementary schools and one high school, said he’s even more concerned about cuts to special education, which, according to Talbott, could amount to as much as $1.3 million statewide.
“That’s an area where programmatically, we still need to provide the same level of services whether the federal funding is there or not,” Castle said. “So it means we have to assume a higher percentage of those costs.”
A state-by-state analysis by the National Education Association concluded that the cuts could result in more than 50 job losses in Vermont.
Gossens, however, said she doesn’t anticipate layoffs in her supervisory union.
“Nationally we’re hearing talk about shortened school days and swelling class sizes, but that’s not the impact you’ll see in local schools,” she said. “We might see a squeeze on things like professional development, but I’m not anticipating teacher layoffs.”
Castle said the problem will become far more pronounced if the cuts continue into the next fiscal year.
“The concern really is if sequestration was to hold long term, and move into fiscal year 2015,” Castle said. “And that could impact a lot of direct services in our school, but primarily our funding for early education.”
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