Mar 082013

By Linda Kor
Schools throughout the state will feel the bite of federal sequestration, but the Holbrook School District may feel the hurt more than some others. The implementation of sequestration means across the board cuts to federally funded programs, including those that benefit students in public schools. The Holbrook District relies heavily on a number of those programs, primarily Impact Aid and Title I funding, to provide services for the high number of students from reservation lands and low-income families.
The district uses the Impact Aid that’s provided to make necessary purchases for the district and facility improvements, while Title I funds are used specifically to improve academic achievement levels amongst students who are at risk of failing. Those funds can be used toward teacher training and professional development, individualized student plans, assessments and school-wide programs.
This year the district received just over $4 million in Impact Aid and approximately $1.5 million in Title I funds. If the funding amounts remain the same, the 5.3 percent cut to those funds from sequestration will mean an immediate loss of $200,000 to Impact Aid this year and a $75,000 loss to Title I funding next year. In addition, the district will see cuts to programs such as the food services program that provides free and reduced lunches to low-income families, as well as services to students with special needs.
“There are a multitude of programs that the district takes part in; right now it’s a matter of re-examining the budget,” stated the district’s business manager, Garry McDowell. “It will certainly mean a delay on purchasing new buses and building repairs and that sort of thing.”
The district has already had to do some belt-tightening because of state cuts and with federal cuts added, it will once again mean having to do more with less.
“Of course, this will have a very negative impact on the school district. It will likely mean the loss of some positions, but I won’t say lay-offs. We usually have some teacher turnover, and this may mean reassigning some duties and not filling some of those positions,” explained McDowell.
He also noted that the district has done very well in keeping students from feeling the impact of cuts that have occurred in the past and hopes to continue to do so. Since federal funding is based on the number of students enrolled at the district, McDowell said he feels that the blow to the district will be minimized.
“We’re very fortunate that over the past several years we have seen a five to six percent increase in student count and that will help to offset some of these losses,” stated McDowell.
The district has decided to take a positive approach to the situation and, according to McDowell, continues to recruit quality teachers and seek other avenues for funding.
“The school district is a real tribute to the teachers and the community here. We can’t control what happens in Washington, but we can enhance student safety and education. We’re not victims, and intend to make the most of the resources available,” he said.
Those resources include the recent contract with Midstate Energy to upgrade the district facilities for energy savings, with the cost to come from the savings produced by using those improvements. McDowell is also in the process of applying for a grant from the Arizona Schools Facility Board that, if accepted, would provide new heating units that were not part of the plan involving Midwest.
While McDowell admits that the cuts will make things difficult for the district, he also believes that students will continue to benefit from exceptional educational experience.
“The district continues to make it a top priority to put the best teachers in the classroom and I believe that the parents will continue to recognize the high qualify education their kids are receiving at the schools,” he said.
The impact from the cuts will likely not be seen in this fiscal year, and the picture will be clearer as district officials approach the 2013-14 budget year.