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Rockland schools would be hit especially hard by sequester

East Ramapo Superindendent Joel Klein attends a school

East Ramapo Superindendent Joel Klein attends a school board meeting in Spring Valley. (Oct. 23, 2012) Photo Credit: Faye Murman

Rockland County educators face some $1.3 million in cuts to school budgets under the sequestration plan that would reduce federal spending starting Friday unless a bipartisan deal in Congress is reached before then.

Under sequestration, schools nationwide would see heavy cuts to funding this school year for programs that help educate students who live in poverty and those with disabilities.

"If Congress fails to act and sequestration moves forward, it will make it harder for local schools to provide students a quality education," Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Harrison) said in an emailed statement. "We can avoid these senseless, across-the-board cuts that will hurt our schools if Republicans come together with Democrats to stop putting Big Oil and tax loopholes ahead of American families."

The severely stretched East Ramapo Central School District would bear the brunt of the cuts, losing some $844,000, according to figures provided by Lowey. Last month, the district reported an $8 million midyear budget deficit, even after cutting hundreds of jobs in the past five years.

"With a very poor population, you need a lot of supports," East Ramapo Superintendent Joel Klein said Wednesday, noting his district is the poorest in Rockland County, with 74 percent of students receiving subsidized lunches. In East Ramapo, he said, federal funds are critical to reading remediation for those students who are learning English as a second language.

"This will devastate the remediation program," Klein said.

East Ramapo also finances special education programs for some 2,028 students, both in public and private schools. Klein said the district would either have to cut special education programs or, for those that are mandated, take the money out of the general fund, which would spell cuts to other programs.

"We're between a rock and a hard place," Klein said.

The sequester cuts could hit the Rockland Board of Cooperative Educational Services as well. Services to the East Ramapo district make up about one-third of the $90 million budget of the BOCES.

"We're concerned because we do a lot of services for students with disabilities and early childhood education," said Stephanie Gouss, a spokeswoman for Rockland BOCES. She said the cuts could erode programs across the county.

"School districts are already faced with tight budgets," Gouss said. "It's like a double whammy."

In addition, Rockland County's working families could see cuts to federal grants that help pay for day care, according to Jane Brown, executive director of Child Care Resources of Rockland.

"The families we know couldn't work if they didn't have child care," Brown said. "If they didn't have the subsidy, they would have to stop working, and that would put them back on a welfare program."

Brown said she fears that the federal cuts also will affect the money her organization receives from state and local governments.

"I think the trickle-down effect is going to be enormous," she said.

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