Unless Congress acts by Friday, metro-east school districts will take another hit as a series of automatic cuts referred to as the sequester will take effect, and the amount of federal funding school districts in Illinois receive will be reduced by 5 percent, according to school officials.
Local school districts have already been managing with less money from local property taxes as a result of a drop in real estate values and a reduction in general state aid.
"It's just one more hit in the really nasty financial climate for education," said Matt Stines, superintendent of Grant School District 110 in Fairview Heights.
St. Clair County Regional Office of Education Superintendent Susan Sarfaty agrees. "This is just one more hit for our school districts fiscally. It makes an already difficult job even harder," she said. "I'm hopeful the folks in Washington (D.C.) will be able to sit down together and come to some type of agreement, but the clock is ticking."
However if the sequestration goes into effect Friday, Belleville School District 118 Superintendent Matt Klosterman said the district would not "feel the impact of any cuts until July 1. We would not see any reduction in the money that's been allocated to us for this current school year," he said.
If the federal sequester occurs, Stines explained local school districts expect to receive 5 percent less in special education funding and Title 1 funding -- federal money which must be used to improve the academic achievement of disadvantaged students.
Sarfaty said Title 1 funding is "by far the largest type of federal dollars our school districts receive."
The 5 percent cut would mean between $20,000 and $25,000 less in federal funds for Grant School District, according to Stines.
The sequester would have a bigger impact on school districts with a larger population of low-income students such as Cahokia School District 187 and East St. Louis District 189
If the sequester comes to fruition, Cahokia District 187 Superintendent Art Ryan said the district is expecting to receive $250,000 less in Title 1 funds.
"It absolutely cuts down what we can offer students as far as education," said Debra Tippett, director of curriculum and instruction for District 187.
However, schools officials say the loss of a portion of Cahokia School District's $4 million in Title 1 funds won't immediately impact staffing. "There's not going to be any immediate loss of staff," Ryan said, but it will impact the amount of supplies and equipment the district can purchase for instruction.
If Title 1 funds are further reduced, Ryan said it would impact "minor support services" offered for students in the areas of reading and math. Tippett said the number of literacy and math assistants at each school in Cahokia would be reduced, but the district plans to maintain the same number of reading teachers and para professionals.
In addition, the cuts in Title 1 funds may impact after school tutoring currently offered by District 187, Tippett said.
Like Cahokia, East St. Louis District 189 receives a significant amount of money from Title 1 funds -- $10.1 million, according to Superintendent Arthur Culver.
"If the sequester takes place, we could potentially see a significant reduction in funds for our Title I program and our early childhood program," Culver said. "If that happens, students would lose access to services such as after-school programs, individual instruction and other interventions that help close achievement gaps."
Klosterman said a 5 percent reduction in Title 1 funds would translate to $230,000 less in federal funding for District 118.
"Along with the reduction in revenue from the state, it would be a significant hit for us to lose a quarter million dollars in revenue," he said.
Edwardsville District 7 gets about 5 percent of its $72 million budget from the federal government. The sequester will cost them about $200,000, according to finance director Dave Courtney.
"Most of the federal programs are based on poverty levels, and ours is much lower than some other districts," he said. "But anything on top of all the other stuff going on doesn't help ... We had already allocated those funds for this year."
But Collinsville Unit 10 has a higher poverty rate -- more than 50 percent, according to finance director Uta Robison -- and thus about 13 percent of its education fund budget comes from the federal government.
Robison estimated that the district could lose more than $1 million if the sequester goes forward, including the cuts in Title I funds and subsidies for school lunches.
In all, Illinois will lose about $33 million in funding for primary and secondary education this year if the sequester occurs, according to information released by the White House earlier this week. In addition, Illinois will lose approximately $24.7 million in funds for about 300 teachers, aides, and staff who help children with disabilities.
If the federal sequester is activated, Culver said District 189 would experience "cuts in special education" funding.
"The federal funding that we receive for these services help provide essential instruction and support to preschool and school-aged children with disabilities," he said. "So, for the sake of our children, I hope that Republicans and Democrats can find a way to the negotiation table to replace across-the-board cuts."
BND reporter Elizabeth Donald contributed information for this article. Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.