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Arlee school district faces budget cuts

ARLEE - While nothing is set in stone, the Arlee School Board is planning to cut around 20 percent of its annual budget. 

Superintendent George Linthicum says the preemptive cuts stem from the potential loss of Impact Aid at the federal level. 

He explained that Impact Aid is received from the federal government for school districts on or near national forests, reservations and military bases to make up the difference normally paid by local property taxes. These property taxes are part of a formula used by the state to decide the amount of funding a school district receives in a given year. 

On Aug. 2, 2011, President Obama signed the Budget Control Act into law in an effort to increase our nation’s debt limit and curtail spending while decreasing the nation’s debt. The BCA called for $900 million in cuts to discretionary spending programs over the next 10 years while creating a “supercommittee” comprised of members from the House and Senate to find $1.2 trillion dollars in cuts over the next decade. If the committee failed, an automatic sequestration would begin to cut funding for every program not specifically excluded in the bill. 

The supercommittee failed. Unless Congress can change or redact the law, cuts will begin Jan. 1, 2013. Education is one of the federally-funded programs on the chopping block and, if the law remains as written, will lose about 8 percent of its funding. This amounts to about $3.5 billion lost to educational institutions around the country.

As these spending cuts have not yet befallen any school district, Linthicum said the Arlee district does not know how much aid it will lose. However, the administration is planning for a 20 percent reduction in funds. 

“Based on the information coming out of Washington, I think most school districts will have to budget on the conservative side, understanding they may not get the full amount of federal funding,” Linthicum said. 

While nothing is finalized, the district has already made some changes. One teacher took an early retirement, and three more will not return for the 2012-13 school year. Linthicum said these positions will not be filled unless “a windfall of money were to befall us, which I don’t think likely.”

In a self-sacrificing move, Linthicum himself advised the board that he would work half-time in the upcoming school year. This will save the district money by effectively cutting the superintendent’s salary in half. 

He said he’s not looking for a medal, an “Atta-boy” or even praise. Instead, he says it was something that simply had to be done. 

“To me, it was more important to make sure that the quality of education remained high,” Linthicum said. 

No programs have been cut in their entirety, and Linthicum said he’s putting together a leadership team to continue assessing the situation as the school year progresses. 

“At this point in time, we’re still committed and believe we’ll be able to provide a good quality education. The school serves the community and will always do so,” Linthicum said. “The kids always have and always will come first.”

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