Mississippi educators bracing for federal cuts

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Mississippi schools could take a big hit if a budget deal is not reached in Congress by Friday. The state could lose about $5.4 million in federal funding for primary and secondary education. Plus, programs that help children with disabilities would lose more than $6 million.

While South Mississippi superintendents are still waiting for word on the potential impact on their districts, some are preparing for a worst-case scenario.

Every day, the Boost program at Pass Road Elementary School in Gulfport helps about 85-students who are falling behind in their reading skills. The Boost program and others that rely on federal funding could feel the brunt if automatic spending cuts take effect March first.

Superintendent Glen East said his district is preparing for a ten-percent cut. That could mean $800,000 less to spend next year.

"For us, that means downsizing programs. That might mean, for example, a child who normally goes to tutoring four times after school a week, we're going to have to drop that to three. We may have less time in our Boost programs," said East.

The district may also be forced to trim spending on supplies, technology, and family involvement programs.  And some staff members may be affected.

"Right now, in personnel, we don't think we have to make a cut. I can't tell that in seven or ten days, I'm going to have to call you back and say we're going to lose two or three piece of the personnel," said East.

In order to save jobs, the Biloxi School District is looking at moving some positions around in case it loses federal funding.

"We don't want to lose anyone, but we will look at technology, the supplies that we pull out. And personnel such as computer lab teachers and assistants, academic strategists, nurses, SPED teacher assistants as well, those are the personnel positions that we will have to consider," said Biloxi Schools Assistant Superintendent Dr. Janice Wilson.

Biloxi schools receive about $2 million in federal dollars every year for programs like Title I, along with more than $1 million to help students with disabilities. District leaders must figure out creative ways to keep the programs going and personnel on the payroll.

"We will look at can we downsize, reduce the hours, maybe move some personnel around to kind of reduce the cost in those areas? But we're not looking at cutting anyone at this point," said Wilson. "It's always hard when you have to reduce funds or reduce personnel or programs, but we will continue to strive for success of the students."

"Any time you're doing something and you're changing, it's different. It hurts, but is it manageable? I hope so," said East. "I think we have the staff that can do that. Our teachers are wonderful and they're going to work to do everything they can out of that little extra dollar they get to make sure they're serving their students."

On Monday, Interim State Superintendent of Education Dr. Lynn House said sequestration would impact every school district in Mississippi.  She went on to say, "Such drastic cuts would be devastating to an already under funded education budget in Mississippi."

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