Schools and roads funding cut
“California counties hardest hit by a loss in funding are: Lassen, Modoc, Plumas, Trinity, Del Norte, Siskiyou, Sierra, and Alpine,” said Bob Douglas, Tehama County superintendent of schools and president of the National Forest Counties and Schools Coalition (NFCSC), a lobbying group seeking to restore the needed funding.
“These counties have historically been very dependant upon 25 percent of Forest Reserve revenues, which were largely the result of substantial timber harvesting and other revenues raised on national forest lands.”
The loss to Lassen County schools and roads amounts to about $3 million.
Resultant cuts in the local school budgets are inevitable, according to the county Superintendent of Schools Bob Owens. But the good news is that foresight and planning may soften the blow.
“Lassen County school districts have been preparing to weather the storm over the last few years,” said Owens. “Although we greatly rely on these unrestricted funds, we are fortunate in a sense that the funds do not represent a huge percentage of our overall budgets.”
Other school districts will not be so fortunate, according to Douglas.
“More than 9 million school children and their school districts nationwide rely on these funds to be able to offer an equitable education. … states like Oregon and Washington and counties like Siskiyou, Trinity, Plumas, and Sierra will be devastated without these funds,” he said. “School districts and counties are always tightening their belts and the situation looks rather bleak with the California budget being projected at a $14 billion deficit and the National Center for Education Statistics stating that California ranks 50th of 50 states in staff-to-student ratios. In some cases, the percentage of total discretionary budget funding for schools is as high as one-fourth of their budget.”
The on-again-off-again funding to rural counties, first begun seven years ago, nearly ended last year. A last-minute lobbying effort saved the day. But that may not be the case this time around.
Nevertheless, lobbying efforts to reinstate the funding will continue.
“The leadership and members of NFCSC were very disappointed that the Secure Rural Schools and Communities Act was not important enough to Congress to have the law reauthorized before the Christmas break,” said Owens. “However, it is not too late nor has the coalition given up.”
“NFCSC is in the process of launching an all-out offensive to spur Congress to extend the Secure Rural Schools and Communities Act (SRSCA) before they adjourn for spring recess,” said Douglas. “We are urging members to leave no stone unturned as they search for the appropriate legislative vehicle to use in achieving a reauthorization of SRSCA. In essence, we are asking them to consider attaching SRSCA to the pending farm bill, to an expected tax extender bill or to an emergency supplemental appropriations package expected to move in February.”
“Although many members of Congress are cosponsors of the bills, funding was not identified nor set aside for this purpose. Therefore, I would expect that the coalition will continue its efforts to pressure these politicians to act for the benefit of these children, school districts, and counties,” said Owens.
If lobbying efforts fail, the effects will be substantial, according to Douglas. “A loss of millions of dollars in discretionary funding generally results in personnel layoffs of teachers and various support persons at the school level and at the county level, substantial layoffs of road maintenance and snow removal personnel.
“Needless to say, in both the schools and in county government, many essential services will be curtailed and/or eliminated. In school systems, art and music elective programs, counseling services, nursing services, elective and enrichment classes, vocational and technical training classes, library services, extra help/remedial instruction programs, and athletic/extracurricular activities will be the programs most affected. In most forest counties, a number of teachers will be released, class sizes will increase, and there will be a much larger number of combination classes (several grades in one class) in 2008-2009 across the north state.”
The impact on county and family budgets cannot be overstated, according to Douglas. “Statewide, we estimate that over 750 education jobs will be eliminated and over 800 county jobs will be discontinued. While this is not a large number in an urban county, the loss of 50-100 jobs in an individual rural county and the attendant loss of services to the public, is a big deal,” he said. “Because layoff notices start going out to employees about the first of March, time is of the essence, if we are to avoid disrupting essential services and the lives of thousands of county and school employees and their families.”
Douglas went on to urge the citizens of forest counties to contact their representatives in Washington.
“Contact Senator Feinstein’s and Senator Boxer’s office in California and in Washington D.C. Tell them that we need our California senators to assume a leadership role in this debate and ensure that Congress acts soon to protect California schools and counties from a loss of these funds.
“We need to see them out in front and leading the charge to get this done. Now!” he said. “2008-2009 will be a long bleak year for rural California counties and schools without immediate congressional action.”
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