The South Brunswick School District could be facing a significant cut in federal aid should $85 billion in "sequestration" spending cuts go into place on March 1.
New Jersey could lose nearly $30 million for education, with approximately $11.7 million in cuts to primary and secondary education, and about $17 million in cuts to special education programs, the White House said Sunday.
"My guess is that we have to be prepared for about $160,000 in cuts," said South Brunswick Superintendent Gary McCartney on Monday. "Our rule of thumb is that it will probably be about $80,000 (cut) for every $1 million of federal funds, and we're sitting at around $2 million (in federal funds)."
The total federal spending cuts would come in at about $1.2 trillion over the next nine years, according to the White House. With the debate expected to rage on Capital Hill through Friday, the possibility of decreased federal aid had been looming over districts throughout the state as they formulated spending plans for next year.
"We'd been watching this and the way it usually works is that they postpone it or find some way to kick the can down the road, so it will be interesting to see if it happens," Dr. McCartney said. "If it does, we have a commitment to kids with Title 1 and other support services that we'll have to figure out a way to fit into next year's budget."
Last year, the district adopted a $138 million spending plan that increased by 1.15 percent over 2011-12, but lowered the general fund tax levy by about $630,000 to $96.2 million.
The potential loss of additional federal funding comes at a time when South Brunswick is still reeling from the impact of declining tax ratables.
Since 2007, the township has lost $600 million in ratables from successful tax appeals, while the ratio of assessed property value to market value dropped from about 80 percent to 47 percent in South Brunswick over the last decade.
If the federal spending cuts are put in place, one of the hardest hit areas could be programs that serve students with disabilities.
Dr. McCartney said that a significant amount of funding from federal aid to South Brunswick pays for out of district tuition costs for students with special needs, which could put an expense of about $100,000 back into the district's general fund budget.
"Every time you create a new expense in the general fund budget you say okay, taxes are limited in what you can raise, so what do you cut," he said.
With Gov. Chris Christie set to deliver his budget address today (Feb. 26), the district expects to find out by the end of the week what kind of state and federal aid will be coming to South Brunswick as work continues on next year's school budget.
"Obviously this week is a crucial week, as we find out Thursday what our state aid is," Dr. McCartney said. "We should find out on Friday whether we're getting whacked on the federal end. That will be the missing piece for the budget that we don't have yet, and then we'll be able to continue through the completion of the budget."