Macon County sees $24,000 less in federal funding.
During a joint meeting of the Macon County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education, Superintendent Dr. Dan Brigman informed commissioners that the school district received $178,286 in funds from the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act (SRSCA).
Because of the uncertainty surrounding reauthorization of the SRSCA by Congress, Macon County and other rural counties across the country are experiencing a decrease in funds, which puts most districts in a bind. Because of the budget process, school districts are required to complete each year’s budget without knowing the amount of the SRSCA fund allotments, forcing them to make the best guess possible when planning the budget.
SRSCA funding is used to directly fund teacher’s salaries and crucial education programs throughout the county. Any decrease in funding could lead to a loss in teaching positions as well as continued decrease in programs such as More at Four and after school programs.
Superintendent Brigman, who serves as North Carolina's contact for the SRSCA, explained that because the SRSCA funds have continuously decreased over the past few years, the school system tried to prepare for this fiscal year by using a zero-based increase formula. Unfortunately, not only was there not an increase in funds this year, Macon County saw around a $24,000 reduction.
According to Angie Cook, head of the finance department for Macon County Schools, when the budget for the 2011-2012 school year was originally drafted, she took into consideration anticipated funding cuts to reflect the uncertainty of SRSCA. “I included an expected revenue of $200,000, and we ended up receiving $178,000,” said Cook.
In order to make up for the $24,000 reduction in funds from last year, the teacher’s salaries and programs that were originally intended to be financed from the SRSCA funds, the school district will have to tap into other resources such as state, local and federal dollars, explained Dr. Brigman.
Cook explained that she will be looking to the school’s fund balance in hopes other line items did not require as many expenditures as originally anticipated in order to make up for the short fall.
While currently in the budget planning process for the 2012-2013 school year, Dr. Brigman noted that Macon County is planning to receive around $150,000 next year. The hope is that by lowering the anticipated allotment, the county will not be put in this same situation.
School districts across the country, including Macon County and 24 other rural counties in North Carolina that house a substantial amount of federal lands within their boundaries, receive vital funding through SRSCA. The Macon County school system currently receives more funding than any other county in the state through the SRSCA, and thus stands to continue losing a significant amount of funding.
N.C. Congressman Heath Shuler has been an advocate for the reauthorization process, because out of all the districts in N.C. that will suffer, the 11th congressional district stands to lose the most.
“Funding for many federal programs has been eliminated or substantially reduced this year, and I was very happy to see the Secure Rural Schools Act extended with bipartisan support,” said Shuler. “This program is absolutely critical for public schools in Macon County and other counties across our region with a high percentage of federally owned land.”
Although a temporary extension was approved earlier this year, the ultimate fate of the Bill is left up to the United States House of Representatives. Currently the Bill is stagnant and has been sent to various committees for approval. The much-needed legislation that ensures rural communities and schools all over the country receive the support they need through the SRSCA is currently being stalled by the House.
The funds support local school district budgets and county education projects. Without these initiatives, Macon County schools will be facing difficult budget decisions.
Of the $178, 286 given to Macon County, two percent is taken off the top and given to the county, explained Jack Horton, Macon County Manager. According to Horton, the money that county received from the timber sales goes into the county’s educational budget.
Horton noted that because the number of funds vary from year to year, the county looks as the money as a supplement as does not depend on it. “Because the amount of the SRSCA the county receives each year is based on timber sales, it has always been unpredictable,” said Horton. “The percentage the county receives goes to supplement our existing educational budget.”
“From what I have experienced in talking with our Congressman and other state representatives, I am confident that the reauthorization will be approved in some fashion,” said Horton. “There is pretty strong bipartisan support across the county pushing for the reauthorization. We might see some sort of decrease, but I do believed in the long run it will get approved in Congress.”
According to Congressman Shuler, if the bipartisan support continues to gain momentum in Congress, the reauthorization should pass without problem.
“We must continue to have strong leadership on the local, state and federal level working toward reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools Act,” said Congressman Shuler. “This is exactly the sort of bipartisan program that we must continue to invest in to protect our rural communities and ensure our students have the resources they need to succeed.”
Beginning in 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, Chief of the Forest Service, proposed a revenue-sharing initiative, which Congress approved, allocating 25 percent of revenue generated in National Forests be returned to the respective counties which housed the forests. Since the program’s inception, states have continued to receive funding from the federal government to offset states’ anticipated loss of property tax revenues which occurred when National Forest lands were established across the county.
Until the late 80s, the program continued to be successful and served its purpose of jointly protecting the National Forests, while also providing support services and funding to rural counties and schools. After national policy mandated a decline in the use of forest lands, revenues began to decline, resulting in lower pay-outs to rural communities. By 1998, revenues had declined by an overwhelming 70 percent, putting rural communities in unexpected financial distress.
As a result of the financial uncertainty and unexpected loss of critical funding, the SRSCA was established and signed into law in October of 2000 with the intention of subsidizing payments to counties, taking into consideration historic payment levels before the decline. The SRSCA has since provided more than $5 billion for critical services to 729 rural counties, and funds to educate more than nine million school children in 4,400 school districts in 41 states. Since 2007, counties and schools have seen payments increasingly reduced as a result of the declining timber industry.
The Partnership for Rural America campaign was organized by citizens during the wake of the timber funds decline to renew the contract between the Federal government and rural communities, while promoting the economic and social health of rural America. The campaign actively works to build a broad-based partnership to support the long-term— ten-year—reauthorization and appropriation of the SCRCA. National organizations like the Partnership for Rural America have been at the forefront of the reauthorization process and have been responsible for rallying the support of public officials through public awareness initiatives.
In August, Joel Yelverton, former southern coordinator for Partnership for Rural America campaign, visited Macon County Schools’ central office to meet with Superintendent Dr. Dan Brigman, Congressman Shuler, and representatives from surrounding school districts to discuss the critical importance of the timber funds and to answer questions regarding what steps needed to be taken to secure the reauthorization.
The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act (SRSCA) was set to expire the first week of October 2011, and as a result, H.R. Bill 1692, which pushed for a five-year extension, was introduced into the legislature. The bipartisan bill, introduced by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, (D-NM,) and Lisa Mukowski, (R-AR,) is the result of a lengthy battle of the reauthorization process, the debate is centered around the intention of regulating logging in National Forests, while also securing funding for rural county roads and public schools that began in 1908.
The way the current bill is written, counties would be able to continue to receiving funds through SRSCA, but would experience a five percent yearly decrease in funds over the five-year expansion period proposed in the bill.