Sonoma County schools could lose $4 million in sequester cuts

Sonoma County's 40 school districts are bracing for a loss of more than $4 million in funding next school year because of federal budget cuts taking effect today.

The sequester cuts will cost local schools 5.9 percent of the $70 million -- or $4.1 million -- in federal funds for supplemental programs that include reading and language instruction, technology and free and reduced-price lunches.

The impact of the cuts seems months away, but actually comes just as school officials are planning schedules and staffing for the 2013-14 school year.

And with the $85 billion sequester cuts themselves at stake in Washington's political tug of war over a 10-year, $1 trillion deficit reduction plan, local educators are dealing with an outcome no one can predict.

"At some point, whatever they do is going to be real," said Doug Bower, associate superintendent of the Santa Rosa City Schools.

Santa Rosa, the county's largest school district, stands to lose about $800,000 in federal funds, and Bower said officials haven't yet determined the impact on jobs, books or equipment.

Cotati-Rohnert Park schools would lose $300,000, Sonoma Valley schools $200,000 and west Sonoma County high schools $100,000, according to the county's estimates.

"The fiscal future is still unclear while Congress discusses numerous fiscal issues," state schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson said in a recent letter to local school officials.

He urged districts to "create a contingency plan" in case the sequester cuts are retained or Congress makes other "significant cuts to education."

Steve Herrington, county schools superintendent, said he is advising districts to be "cautious" and to issue pink slips -- preliminary teacher layoff notices -- as needed should the federal budget cuts materialize.

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