River Dell Schools Adopt Wait and See Approach to Sequestration Cuts

Districts across New Jersey await state aid figures this week with uncertainty.

The River Dell tri-district school systems are facing the deadline to submit the 2013-2014 budget to the county next week with uncertainty as to whether $85 billion in federal "sequestration" spending cuts will be stopped by Congress before Friday and how it will impact the district.

And so far, at least two out of the three districts have adopted a wait and see approach to what effects the sequestration budget cuts could bring.

"River Dell does not receive significant funds from the federal government," River Dell Superintendent Patrick Fletcher said. "I am adopting a “wait and see” approach until we have a true picture."

The districts are also waiting to hear from Governor Christie who will make his state budget address Tuesday. Each district is then scheduled to receive state aid amounts before Friday.

"The Oradell Board of Education, in conjunction with New Jersey School Boards Association, passed a resolution at our December Board Meeting in which we petitioned our elected officials to reconsider sequestration cuts," Oradell Superintendent Anne Facendo said. "Additionally, district administration placed a partial freeze on discretionary spending within the district on January 2, 2013.  Like many other school districts, we are awaiting outcomes at the federal level before we take further action."

The districts will then have to submit a tentative budget to the county for approval by next week. Public budget hearings are scheduled for the week of March 25.

Last year for the 2012-2013 school year each district received an average 30% increase in their state aid amounts. Oradell recieved $328,932 while River Edge was awarded $424,631. The Regional district, while still underfunded from a few years ago when it received $1 million in aid, was given the largest amount in state aid, $632,193. 

If Congress fails to halt the "sequestration" by Friday, New Jersey could lose nearly $12 million in funding for primary and secondary education, according to figures released by the White House. 

Without action from Congress, the sequester would go into effect automatically on March 1, reducing spending by the state in a number of areas, including education, the environment, health, military and law enforcement, the White House said.

The cuts, according to the Obama administration, could jeopardize 160 teacher and aide jobs in New Jersey, as well as cut funding to 60 schools and 15,000 students.

Funding would be cut to the early childhood education program Head Start, vaccination programs for children and health services for seniors, among other things, and thousands of civilian Department of Defense employees could be furloughed, according to the White House.

The total federal spending cuts under the sequester add up to about $1.2 trillion over the next nine years.

But those same cuts may not have much impact on Bergen County services, according to County Administrator Ed Trawinski.

Cuts to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grants program are likely the only funding cuts which would affect services in Bergen County.

"I don't believe — unless there's something we missed — that there are any other cuts that would come with the sequester," Trawinski said.

Congress has already made cuts to the Community Development Block Grants program for the past two years and county officials were already budgeting for little to no increase this year, Trawinski said.

The only unforeseen effect that the county may face is if cuts to New Jersey cause state officials to cut grants to the county, according to Trawinski.

"Once we know what Congress has done, we will be able to look at what the State of New Jersey will do," Trawinski said.

Republicans have accused the president of using the impending cuts for political gain.

President Barack Obama's plan asks for increased tax revenues to offset some of the trillion-dollar cuts.

Teresa Akesten and James Leggate contributed to this article.

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