District 63 braces for ‘fiscal cliff’ impact
East Maine School District 63 Supt. Scott Clay and School Board President Jane Wojtkiewicz attend a Dec. 5 board meeting. District 63 took action to institute budget cuts if Congress fails to pass a deficit reduction plan. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 11, 2013 1:57AM
MAINE TOWNSHIP — Local educators fearing across-the-board cuts to federal programs are urging Congress and the Obama administration to act swiftly to preserve school funding.
A stalemate in Washington D.C. on how to trim the nation’s debt is putting public school systems at risk of losing up to $4.1 billion combined beginning next school year.
The looming “fiscal cliff” has prompted East Maine School District 63 and more than 300 hundred districts across the United States to adopt resolutions regarding sequestration, a fiscal policy of automatic budget cutting that may be triggered if legislators fail to pass a savings and deficit reduction plan.
The Budget Control Act of 2011 imposes spending cuts of approximately 8.2 percent to education and other domestic programs beginning Jan. 2, 2013.
Title I grants for disadvantaged students would be reduced by an estimated $1.2 billion and Individuals With Disabilities Education Act funding would decrease by $900 million.
The National Education Association calculates Illinois schools alone would endure a $166 million drop in federal support.
As of Dec. 3, at least 10 other Illinois school boards had joined District 63 in passing resolutions calling for action, including Mount Prospect School District 57, Schaumburg Community Consolidated School District 54, and Northbrook School District 27.
The Park Ridge-Niles District 64 administration said it currently had no intention to pursue a similar resolution.
“We feel the government’s lack of action would affect District 64 very little, if any, financially,” explained Superintendent Philip Bender.
While District 63 is primarily supported by local taxpayer dollars, government grants are significant sources of revenue, said Superintendent Scott Clay.
District 63 budgeted to collect $45.1 million in direct revenue for the 2012-13 school year. The district receives about $2.8 million from the federal government, approximately 60 percent of which go toward staff salaries and benefits for Title I and other programs, reported Executive Director of Business Services David Bein.
District 63 would stand to lose $230,000 if sequestration is enacted.
Clay said the school district is committed to meeting its financial obligations through the current school year. Yet staffing and program cutbacks are a real possibility in coming years if federal grants don’t come through, he said.
District 63 encouraged the federal government “to protect education as an investment critical to economic stability and American competitiveness,” according to its resolution.
“It is extremely important that we do what we can,” said Clay, adding that residents may also send letters to elected officials encouraging Congress to act.
School Board Vice President John Jekot predicted an “11th hour” budget decision by legislators. Jekot has lobbied in Washington on behalf of District 63 with the National School Boards Association’s Federal Relations Network for the past six years.
“I have a gut feeling they’re going to come up with something at deadline,” he said. “I don’t think they’ll cut everything they’re proposing.”
He also hopes the seating of a new Congress will result in more positive change on the public education front, particularly in regards to the widely criticized and expired No Child Left Behind Act, which outlines standards for measuring student success.
“I think (2013) might be the year that something happens,” Jekot said.