Some local leaders say sequester cuts a ‘disaster,’ others say affects would be minimal

David Albers/Staff
Golden Gate High School juniors Nicole Dwyer, left, and Mackenzie Fowell  with classmates in Golden Gate High School English teacher Rebecca Witt's AICE English Language class on Friday, Sept. 7, 2012.

Photo by DAVID ALBERS, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

David Albers/Staff Golden Gate High School juniors Nicole Dwyer, left, and Mackenzie Fowell with classmates in Golden Gate High School English teacher Rebecca Witt's AICE English Language class on Friday, Sept. 7, 2012.

Lee County Superintendent Joseph Burke. David Albers/Staff

Photo by DAVID ALBERS // Buy this photo

Lee County Superintendent Joseph Burke. David Albers/Staff

Collier County superintendent Kamela Patton

Photo by GREG KAHN, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

Collier County superintendent Kamela Patton

Roy Terry

Roy Terry

Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk

Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk

Local leaders are keeping a close eye on Washington D.C. this week to see what cuts, if any, will hit Southwest Florida if Congress does not avoid the forthcoming sequester.

The White House released lists for each state on Sunday of potential effects of automatic spending cuts.

The White House compiled the numbers from federal agencies and its own budget office. The numbers are based only on the $85 billion in cuts for this fiscal year, from March-September, that are set to take effect Friday.

According to the White House, Florida would lose about $54.5 million in funding for primary and secondary schools. About 750 teacher and aide jobs would be at risk. The state would also lose an additional $31.1 million in funding for teachers and aides who help children with disabilities.

Lee schools Superintendent Joseph Burke called the sequestration’s potential impact on schools a “disaster.”

“If the full sequestration occurs, it’ll have a very negative impact on school districts throughout Florida and throughout the country,” Burke said. “We would hope that there would be a resolution prior to next Friday so that this disaster doesn’t need to happen to the students of our community.”

The superintendent said administrators planned for the potential sequestration by setting aside 7 percent of the district’s federal dollars. If lawmakers avoid it, that money will be freed up for other needs.

Collier schools Superintendent Kamela Patton said the cuts would touch federal programs like Title I, which provides assistance to schools with high percentages of students from low income families.

“We are trying to provide additional services to students, not cut out more,” she said.

Collier County School Board member Roy Terry said the sequestration would require board members, who have been trying to avoid dipping into reserves this year after repeated funding cuts, to look for ways to make up for that money. The board is also trying to cut back on the amount of money used from the referendum with the goal of not having to go back to the public for another, he said.

“(The sequestration) may cause us maybe this year to have to look at the referendum again in terms of being able to maintain programs,” Terry said. “The first thing we want to do is make sure that we maintain any programs that would affect students and then work from there as to where we’d be able to make cuts.”

The White House also announced Florida will lose about $970,000 in Justice Assistance Grants that support law enforcement, prosecution and courts, corrections and crime prevention.

But Collier Sheriff Kevin Rambosk said those cuts would not have a large impact locally. Sheriff’s Office officials have worked for the last four years to eliminate the need for federal money, he said.

“When you accept grants, you have to accept a lot of rules and guidance,” Rambosk said. “Quite frankly, we have to develop a budget that provides for the safety locally here. We don’t want to get accustomed to taking federal money to do that.”

The Sheriff’s Office has two programs funded by federal grants that could be affected by the cuts, Rambosk said. One pays for an investigator to track sexual predators. The other pays for an investigator to work with at-risk juveniles.

The grants for those two initiatives were about to end soon. Sheriff’s Office officials had planned to absorb the costs into their budget anyway, and would just have to do so earlier than planned, Rambosk said.

“There would not be a major effect throughout Florida with that amount of money, just looking at the sheer size of the state and the potential distribution.” Rambosk said of the $970,000 in announced cuts.

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced $600 million in proposed cuts as part of the sequester. Included were cuts to Federal Aviation Administration that could jeopardize air traffic control towers at the Naples Municipal Airport and Page Field in Fort Myers.

According to the White House, other cuts that could happen in Florida include:

Environmental protection: Florida would lose about $5.2 million in funding for clean water, air quality and preventing pollution from pesticides and hazardous waste. The state could also lose an additional $1.1 million in grants for fish and wildlife protection.

Employment: Florida would lose about $2.3 million in funding for job search assistance, referrals and job placement.

Public health: Florida would lose about $509,000 for vaccines, meaning that roughly 7,450 children would not receive vaccines for diseases such as measles, mumps, tetanus, rubella, whooping cough, Hepatitis B and the flu. The state also would lose about $1.8 million in grants for upgrades to its response to public health threats such as infectious diseases, natural disasters and biological, chemical or nuclear events. Florida also would lose about $5 million in grants for treating substance abuse, and a $1.4 million loss at the state’s department of health would cut HIV tests by about 359,000.

Military funding: In Florida, about 31,000 civilian employees of the Department of Defense would be furloughed.

Domestic violence: Florida would lose up to $404,000 in funds for services for victims of domestic violence.

Senior care: Florida would lose approximately $3.8 million in funds that provide meals for the elderly.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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