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Schools wait out federal stalemate

Despite the uncertainty of forced budget cuts tied to sequestration, principals say they're well positioned to handle possible reductions.

March 08, 2013|By Jeremiah Dobruck

School officials are biding their time while adapting to forced federal budget cuts — known as sequestration — that could affect supplemental education for the district's disadvantaged students.

So far, Newport-Mesa Unified School District and other affected agencies know only the broad strokes of the forced cuts that took effect last week, Newport-Mesa's Deputy Supt. Paul Reed said.

"We have no definitive direction from the Feds yet," he wrote in an email.

Newport-Mesa does not know whether its federal funding may be reduced 5.1% to 8.2%.

That dollar figure could be as low as $588,649 or as high as $946,456, Reed explained.

Neither number may seem like a tremendous amount considering the district's budget last school year was more than $230 million, but the federal cuts would especially target special education and disadvantaged students.

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Pomona and Rea elementary schools — situated on the westside of Costa Mesa — serve some of the district's highest concentration of low-income and English-learning students.

At Pomona, federal Title I funding goes toward extra staffing to help with language instruction.

More than 92% of its students were categorized as English-language learners last school year, according to district records.

A cut to that money would be felt, but not catastrophically, according to the principal.

"Anything we use Title I funds for is to go above and beyond for our students," Principal Megan Brown said.

Newport-Mesa stands to lose between $194,075 and $312,042 of Title I funding.

At Rea, that money also goes to hourly supplemental teachers, often working with small groups of students who need extra academic instruction.

"That support is extremely important to our students," said Principal Anna Corral, but she too was confident programs could absorb the reduction if it's forced on them.

Mostly though, school staffs are waiting to see what's handed down from the federal level.

Reed said he presumes the details will be hashed out before Newport-Mesa pulls together a tentative budget in June.

"We prefer to wait and see for the time being," he said. "From March to June is a very long time in Washington politics."

Students and staff wouldn't feel any pinch until next school year regardless, Reed said.

He's hopeful lawmakers may reshuffle the educational cuts even if they keep the overall sequester in place.

"Consequently, we'll come back to this issue as we build the 2013-14 Budget," he wrote. "Until then, we're being cautious and watching carefully."

jeremiah.dobruck2@latimes.com

Twitter: @jeremiahdobruck

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