Area schools tangle with funding questions
By ELISA SAND, Staff Reporter
Federal funding numbers are still up in the air for many area schools. Chester Superintendent Mark Greguson said he has yet to receive preliminary numbers from the state that reflect the level of federal funding the district will receive for Title I or special education. This lack of information, he said, makes it difficult to draft a comprehensive budget for 2013-14.|
School boards review preliminary budgets in May and hold the official budget hearings in June and July. The budget cycle begins July 1.
Oldham-Ramona Superintendent Tom Ludens said changes can be made to the budget until September, when final budgets are due to the state, but not having official numbers presents a challenge in drafting the budget.
Chester Business Manager Kristi Lewis said she has no idea at this time where funding levels will be set for special education or Title programs.
"My preliminary budget was just that -- preliminary," Lewis said, "and we'll have to finalize and know more by the time budget hearings take place in July."
At Chester, the special education budget alone is $762,120, and is funded through a combination of local, state and federal funding. Last year's budget had a 13 percent contribution from both state and federal funding.
In addition to the automatic federal budget cuts that went into effect (also referred to as the sequester), she said, Chester is taking a second hit with a loss in Head Start funding.
Chester has historically been approved for six Head Start slots through its preschool program. Elementary Principal Faith Stratton said Head Start's funding was cut as a result of the sequester, and Chester's slots were pulled.
"We will definitely miss the funding and training they have for our preschool people," Stratton said.
Chester offers morning classes for 4-year-olds three days a week and for 3-year-olds twice a week, plus an afternoon begindergarten class five days a week. Stratton said begindergarten is for kindergarten-eligible students who meet the age requirement but may not be ready academically or socially.
Stratton said the program is fee based, but the fees are set on a sliding scale with free and reduced rates for those who qualify.
"We're still doing the best we can for kids," Stratton said. "It's too bad the government is cutting in early education. Research shows early childhood is where it's at."
Ludens said he expected solid numbers on federal funding a couple of weeks ago, but they have yet to arrive. He has been told to expect a 1 to 2 percent cut for Title programs and a 2 to 2 1/2 percent cut for special education.
For Oldham-Ramona, he said, a 2 percent cut is about $2,000, which will likely be absorbed by the district's special education reserves.