Gwinnett Co. schools to take hit if sequestration goes through

by: Kerry Kavanaugh Updated:

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GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. - Channel 2 Action News has learned automatic federal spending cuts, also known as the sequestration, are putting money for Georgia students and teachers on the chopping block.

"It's going to hit Georgia hard and it's going to hit our neediest students the hardest," Tim Callahan of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators told Channel 2's Kerry Kavanaugh.

Callahan said local schools budgets are already depleted and many rely heavily on federal dollars.

"When we've got over half our school districts getting more than 15 percent through Title I, Head Start, nutrition programs and others, it's going hit us disproportionately," Callahan said.

According to White House numbers, Georgia will lose nearly $30 million in primary and secondary education. There are 390 teacher and teacher aide jobs at risk. And they say 54,000 fewer students will be served.

Of that, the state will lose $17.5 million in special needs funding. That's 210 jobs for teachers and staff that help children with disabilities.

"The average person might say, heck that's not that many positions over a state as big as Georgia, (but) when you already lost 5,000 positions, it really starts to make a difference," Callahan said.

"It is clear that they're not taking into consideration the next generation of children," said Gwinnett County mother Regina Butler-Streets.

Streets' middle school-aged child is visually impaired. She said her daughter was already underserved when she attended Gwinnett County Public Schools.

"They're already struggling over the course of the past five years as it relates to special needs children," Streets said.

Gwinnett County Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks released a statement saying, "

"Sequestration would have an impact on Gwinnett County Public Schools as we anticipate it would result in an approximate $3.4 million loss to the district. The two largest cuts would be seen in our Title I grant - approximately $1.7 million and our IDEA Section 611 special education grant -- approximately $1.3 million. The district does not anticipate an immediate issue with services as a result of the loss of Title I funds as we will be able to reserve funds from this year to carry into next year.

"The funds from the IDEA Section 611 grant are primarily used to pay salaries for our special education paraprofessionals. If these federal dollars are lost, the district would look to fund these positions out of our local budget. The use of local funds to offset or cover costs of programs affected by sequestration provides additional challenges to school district budgets that already are stretched thin."

"It's a hard hit when a district as well-run and well-funded as Gwinnett is suffering, you know that there are districts in Georgia that are much more poor that are going to suffer even more," Callahan said.

Wilbanks believes Gwinnett has the money to absorb most of the cuts, at least for this school year.

But Callahan said other districts simply don't have the money in the bank.

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