“We may have to close those schools — we don’t have any other avenues at all,” Superintendent Debbie Jackson-Dennison said, adding that she will cut five administrators, 25 support staffers and 35 certified teachers by the end of May.
School bus routes, vital in a large rural setting, will be reduced beginning this month, guaranteeing that some children will be riding an hour to and from school. The school closures are expected by Aug. 1, creating crowding in remaining schools, Jackson-Dennison said.
The worst part, she said, is that congressional lawmakers do not seem to care.
“You get a feeling that this doesn’t really matter,” she said Monday in Washington during a meeting of representatives from schools on Native American reservations and military bases.
Leaders of schools on other reservations and military bases said they had already reduced their current school budgets in anticipation of the sequester, letting job openings go unfilled, trimming professional development, dropping bus routes and cutting guidance counselors.
Lacking local tax dollars
The federal sequester requires the Education Department to cut $1.9 billion in aid to the nation’s 15,000 school districts, money used to help educate poor and disabled children from kindergarten through 12th grade. Most districts have already received their federal dollars for the current school year; any impact from sequestration would affect the next school year.
Public education is largely funded by state and local governments; the federal government pays about 10 percent of the costs. Federal dollars are largely concentrated on poor children and those with disabilities, and the amounts are determined according to the number of children in each category in every state.
But two exceptions are schools on Indian reservations and military bases, which receive a larger share of their funds from Washington as compensation for the fact that they cannot raise funds from local property taxes. For example, the federal government pays 60 percent, or $14.7 million, of Window Rock School District’s $24.3 million annual budget.
Those 1,600 schools are feeling an immediate impact as federal payments are cut, and their pain will soon be shared by the rest of the country, Education Secretary Arne Duncan told their representatives Monday. “You guys are the leading edge of this,” he said. “I honestly never thought that we’d be in this situation. I’m stunned that we are here.”
In addition to funds for poor and disabled children, schools on federal lands receive a third stream of money known as Impact Aid. Under the sequester, they are seeing cuts to all three categories.