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May 21, 2013
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Sequester hits Grand County schools, Rocky Mountain National Park

The federal budget cuts known as the sequester have taken effect and are affecting some local institutions and federally funded entities.

Among the hardest hit by the sequester is Rocky Mountain National Park, which is on track to loose 6 percent of its budget, cut 10 ranger positions, reduce programs, and will keep Glacier Basin Campground closed while the park is open.

Local schools also will be feeling the budget cuts and are expecting a 15 to 20 percent reduction in federal funding, though the schools will be able to absorb the loss and should continue to operate as normal, according to Nancy Karas, superintendent for East Grand School District.

The Sulphur Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service does not anticipate any changes in operations from the budget cuts, and officials from Grand County Public Health and the Grand County Sheriff’s Office don’t anticipate cuts having too large of an impact on their operations.

The sequester cuts began March 1 and were enacted by the Budget Control Act of 2011, which was signed into law by President Obama to bring a conclusion to the debt ceiling crisis of 2011 that threatened to cause the nation to default on its loans. The automatic sequestration cuts were originally slated to take effect Jan. 1, however the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 delayed the date the cuts were supposed to take effect by two months.

The cuts are split evenly between the defense and non-defense categories with some major programs, like Social Security, Medicaid, and federal pay and veterans’ benefits being excluded from the cuts. The spending reductions are $85.4 billion during the 2013 fiscal year, with similar cuts taking place every year until the year 2021.

Schools

Much of the federal funding that local schools receive is considered extra funding per pupil that the state allocates. Normal operating budgets come from local and state taxes and will not be affected. The programs that will be affected are programs such as Title 1, 2, and 3.

Title 1 programs provide financial assistance to schools with high percentages of children from low-income families to help ensure that all children meet challenging state academic standards. Title 2 programs provide federal funds to prepare, train, and recruit high quality teachers and principals in order to increase student achievement. And Title 3 programs provide language instruction to limited English proficient and immigrant students.

The Title programs are provided through federal grants, which will now be cut due to the sequester. These programs are intended to ensure that schools have the opportunities necessary to meet the needs of students who may be at risk of not meeting educational standards.

The lost money shouldn’t affect the programs though due to the two local school districts involvement in the Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services (NW BOCES), which provides specialized programs and personnel to its six member districts instead of each district creating and operating these programs individually.

The programs administered by BOCES are supplemental educational programs and services that are shared between the districts that otherwise may not be available, such as supplemental reading and math programs, professional development programs for teachers, family involvement programs, and gifted education programs.

Some of the lost funds from the sequester to these programs will be made up through the school’s general fund, according to East Grand’s Karas, and the NW BOCES currently has reserve funds that will be used to keep the programs going.

Without the funding from the federal government, BOCES will begin to use reserves to preserve the cost to the districts to keep these programs running, Karas said.

“Right now we are anticipating a 15 to 20 percent cut in federal funding,” said Karas. “There could be more down the road.”

Rocky Mountain National Park

The park’s annual operating budget has been reduced by some 6 percent, which equates to roughly $757,000, compared to 2012. With the sequester and other reductions now going into effect, the park will reduce operations in various ways for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30.

The park plans to hire eight fewer interpretive and educational rangers, a 27 percent loss of seasonal ranger staff. It will also be reducing visitor center hours of operation, including not opening the Moraine Park Visitor Center for the season as well as will be reducing interpretive and educational programming by about 35 percent, according to a press release from the park.

Two less backcountry rangers will be hired at the park this year, equating to a 28 percent reduction in backcountry staff. These backcountry rangers respond to emergencies in the backcountry of the park including technical rescues in areas such as Longs Peak. Due to these reductions in staffing, visitors may experience slower response times to backcountry emergencies, according to the press release.

Glacier Basin Campground, which was slated to be closed during the early part of the summer due to the Bear Lake Road construction, will not be opened this season eliminating 148 single campsites and 13 group campsites in the park. Five seasonal campground positions will also be eliminated due to a $56,000 reduction in campground operations budget.

Another effect of the sequestration will be the minimization of non-emergency overtime, which could affect the parks ability to reopen Trail Ridge Road in the event of late spring or early fall snowstorms. Temporary closures could take place on the road in the shoulder seasons due to these changes, possibly impacting Grand Lake’s economy.

The long-term effects of the sequester could impact the park cumulatively. The park mitigated the impacts of the sequester during this season by not filling vacant permanent positions and delaying research projects. However, as the park fills mission critical positions and funds high-priority research projects, the Park’s budget for hiring seasonal employees to support the summer seasons could be reduced further.

Reid Tulley can be reached at 970-887-3334


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The Sky-Hi News Updated May 27, 2013 01:57PM Published May 21, 2013 06:29PM Copyright 2013 The Sky-Hi News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.