BY MICHAEL WALTON
TRAVERSE CITY — Local school board officials urged Congress to head off mandatory cuts to school funding as the United States teeters on the edge of the so-called "fiscal cliff."
The Traverse City Area Public Schools Board of Education unanimously adopted a resolution at its December board meeting that asked members of Congress to "mitigate the drastic cuts to education" associated with sequestration, a term for Congressional action on budget deficits.
"We will be one of many districts and municipalities kind of putting our flag in the ground and saying 'be responsible. Get something figured out'," board member Megan Crandall said of the resolution.
TCAPS stands to lose about $600,000 in federal funding if Republicans and Democrats in Congress fail to avoid the "fiscal cliff" by next week.
That number might seem insignificant in light of the approximate $84 million appropriated for the district's general fund for the 2012-13 fiscal year.
But TCAPS Chief Financial Officer Paul Soma said losing federal dollars will have a notable impact on the district, which already lost roughly $16.7 million in state and local funding since 2004.
"We are functioning at the margins," he said. "We have been through so many budget cuts."
Sequestration cuts would affect several sources of federal funding such as Title 1 grants for disadvantaged students; grants from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; and Head Start grants from the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
Most cuts would not take effect until the 2013-14 school year, but cuts to the Impact Aid Program would take place this year.
TCAPS is not the only public school system in the region worried about losing federal dollars.
Keith Smith, superintendent of Kingsley Area Schools, said his district uses much of its Title 1 funding to hire reading instruction professionals who work with small groups of low-income students. The specialized, targeted instruction has greatly improved district scores on standardized tests.
"Just because the funding is not there does not mean we can stop those services," Smith said.
Smith said his district, like TCAPS, has few revenue sources available to offset lost federal dollars.
"We are still $240,000 in the hole for this year. Yes, we have a fund balance but the sad thing is a lot of districts don't," he said.
Kalkaska Public Schools, meanwhile, can't replace lost federal funding.
"If it disappears there is no money to replace it," Superintendent Lee Sandy said.
Sandy added that students he has spoken with, both in his district and in college, have a hard time understanding why members of Congress either cannot, or will not, head off the mandatory cuts.
"Kids are listening to this," Sandy said. "They are trying to figure out why adults can't figure this out."