East Penn School District could lose money for remedial and special education if automatic "sequestration" spending cuts trickle down from Washington, D.C. to the local level on Friday.
But, the impact of such spending cuts on East Penn will be minor compared to the problems they will cause in the Lehigh Valley’s major cities, according to Charles Ballard, President of the East Penn Board of School Directors. Ballard shared his thoughts on the topic with Patch via email on Monday, stressing that his comments are his personal opinion and do not represent a position of the East Penn School Board.
"Looming over all school districts in Pennsylvania are the potential impacts on educational programs, particularly for disadvantaged students, that may occur because of the federal budget sequestration crisis engineered by Congress.,” Ballard writes. “East Penn does receive some Title I funds that would impact our programs if these automatic cuts occur, but our problems pale in comparison with those of our large urban centers in the Lehigh Valley with their low property tax base and large populations of disadvantaged students. They will be hit even harder by the federal cuts on top of inadequate state funding."
Passengers at Lehigh Valley International Airport may have to wait in longer lines for security checks.
And desperate homeowners facing foreclosure might not be able to get help from the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley.
Statewide, cuts would eliminate job search assistance for about 37,000 people and furlough 26,000 Department of Defense civilian contractors, Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, said Monday. Pennsylvania would also lose $73 million for medical research funding and innovation.
Sequestration cuts won't affect Social Security, Medicaid, Pell grants, veterans' benefits and Defense Department spending on wars.
Other affected programs would be Individuals with Disabilities Act (for special needs students) funding and medical services funding for those same students.
In January, the East Penn School Board voted to stay within the state tax cap in developing the 2013-2014 school budget. The board is adminstration is scheduled to present the preliminary budget in March.
Superintendent of Schools Thomas L. Seidenberger issued the following statement to Patch via email with respect to the potential budget decisions coming out of Washington, D.C. this week:
"We are very concerned long term. Everything I am hearing, the cuts
won't have an immediate impact," he writes.
Here are other possible local impacts:
- Head Start in the Lehigh Valley could see a cut of up to 8 percent. That could involve as many as 100 children losing places in Head Start as well as a decrease in personnel – 10 teachers and assistant teachers and home visitors, for example, according to Community Services for Children, based in Allentown.
- Lehigh Valley International Airport could lose its air traffic control midnight shift as a result of cuts to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), according to LVIA Executive Director Charles R. Everett, Jr. Passengers could experience delays getting through security if federal Transportation Security Administration workers are furloug
- Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley would lose about $125,000 of the $2.5 million the agency receives from federal sources. This cut would result in about 20 fewer homes being weatherized and would cripple the agency's efforts to save families from losing their homes to foreclosure, said Executive Director Alan Jennings.
"The crisis Congress imposed on itself is a reflection of its own inability to find a consensus on how to solve a problem it created. It would be amazing to see Congress, in all its wisdom, acknowledge that its own solution – sequestration – will impose new, untold crises on people in need and their opportunity-starved neighborhoods throughout the nation. This is the real story. The impact on the institutions that serve them is secondary."
President Obama has asked Congress to pass a short-term package to postpone the March 1 sequestration deadline. Republicans are pushing back, threatening to allow sequestration if tax reforms aren’t included in a deal.
Republicans are floating a plan to force the same amount of cuts but let the Obama administration decide where to make the cuts. Two Lehigh Valley lawmakers -- U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-15th District) and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey -- told the Morning Call they might be OK with that option.
"There's plenty of time to work out an agreement," said Casey, who is urging both sides to agree on a deal before March 1.
The problem with sequestration cuts, Casey said, is that they are not strategic or targeted based on priorities; they're indiscriminate.
Barb Walters, president of the Lehigh Valley Tea Party, said taxpayers are getting tired of financial crisis in Washington.
"Even when it was settled and Congress gave the President his tax cuts, now he's changing the rules of the game. We're going down the same road all the time. But we're not going to go back to sleep again."
Walters said the issue hasn't been discussed before the membership of the Lehigh Valley Tea Party, which meets monthly in Palmer Township.
"We really haven't talked about it so I don't know the consensus of the board," she said. "But this issue has been discussed for so long that it's getting boring. First, it was the Fiscal Cliff. Now they're bringing the same stuff up all the time without any decisions. Even when we think things are settled, they pop up again. Well, we're tired of the same old song and dance."