Sequestration May Cost NMI Public Schools Over $500,000

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USDOE warns federal grants will be cut by 5 to 9 percent

By Moneth Deposa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Feb. 28, 2013) – The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Public School System (PSS) stands to lose more than half a million in federal dollars starting Friday due to the expected sequestration-or automatic budget cuts-that will take effect on March 1, according to Education Commissioner Rita A. Sablan, Ed.D., yesterday.

PSS has received notice from the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) about cuts in the amount of USDOE grants that will be awarded to the system, ranging from 5 to 9 percent, said Sablan.

PSS has so far identified two federal grants that will first be affected: the consolidated grant and the special education program.

CNMI public schools were earlier approved a consolidated grant of $8.4 million for fiscal year 2013. Factoring in the 5-percent cut starting tomorrow, Sablan said the award will be reduced by about $422,000.

For the special education grant, about $240,000 will be slashed from the $4.8 million that was approved for PSS this fiscal year. The cut translates to a 5-percent reduction.

Besides these two federal grants, other grants may also be affected, Sablan said.

"We haven't computed yet the impact to our other federal grants, but we know that they're looking at a 5- to 9-percent reduction too. What we received from USDOE this week is an official communication about [the cuts on] these two federal grants," Sablan told Saipan Tribune.

PSS is now revising its budget for these two programs. Sablan said that "careful assessment and review" is needed to determine which areas can afford the cuts.

PSS receives each fiscal year about $30 million in federal grants. These include, among others, the school breakfast and lunch meal program, which has a $10-million allocation from U.S. Department of Agriculture. Other programs that rely on federal dollars are the Head Start program, the E-rate program, reading program, and some small grants for professional development of personnel, grants for library books and materials, and other school needs.

The $8.4 million consolidated grant itself funds school assessments to the tune of $900,000. It also pays for the Troops to Teacher program ($749,065) and $6.7 million goes to the needs of public and private schools. It was through this grant that PSS was able to fund the salaries of some classroom teachers, career and technical education program, after-school activities, students' laptops, distance education, and professional development workshops.

The special education program grant, on the other hand, covers the salary of teachers and specialists, and needs of students with disabilities, among others.

Sablan said that after reviewing which areas to cut, a recommendation will be endorsed to the Board of Education.

Among the options for PSS, she said, is to hold off buying school materials and supplies that are not immediately needed. PSS, she added, will also look at positions that it can temporarily freeze.

"I know everybody is concerned [of] what is going to happen to the programs and services. Since last year, we've been informing schools and discussing [with] them where we can map out a plan in the event sequestration takes effect. I want to assure our teachers, students, and families that we will do our very best so that the delivery of services inside the classrooms will not be impacted," added the commissioner.

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