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Schools could face steep cuts if Congress fails to act on fiscal cliff

— New York state schools stand to lose an average of $243,000 in federal funding next year if Congress and the White House can’t reach a compromise to avoid the “fiscal cliff” by Jan. 2, according to an analysis of federal grant allocations to school districts completed by the New York State School Boards Association.

“The consequences of lawmakers not reaching agreement on the fiscal cliff are severe for students in New York schools, especially those in city school districts,” said New York State School Boards Association Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer in a release.

The term “fiscal cliff” refers to the consequences of a combination of expiring tax cuts and across-the-board government spending cuts scheduled to become effective Dec. 31, 2012. If the government allows these events to proceed without intervening, the potential aftermath includes huge tax increases — an average of $2,000 a year for middle-class families — skyrocketing unemployment, falling household incomes, collapsing consumer and investor confidence and the potential for recession.

Statewide, schools in New York could lose $164 million in federal funding earmarked largely for educational programs serving students with disabilities and students in poverty, known as IDEA funding. NYSSBA’s analysis is based on across-the-board cuts in federal programs – known as sequestration – that the White House estimates to be 8.2 percent. The biggest impact will be on city schools; Syracuse faces a deficit of $1.6 million if a compromise isn’t reached.

But suburban schools like Liverpool and North Syracuse could also face steep cuts. Donald Keegan, assistant superintendent for management for the North Syracuse Central School District, said those cuts will be particularly damaging, coming after years of belt-tightening.

“Every little bit helps or hurts us. And to know that we could lose $295,000 due to the fiscal cliff adds another hardship we’re trying to process. To put that in perspective, that’s four or five teachers for us,” Keegan said. “It’s a particular difficulty for North Syracuse, because we spend less per pupil than most districts. Only nine other districts statewide spend less per pupil than we do. And we don’t have a very big fund balance. So there are very few places left for us to cut. For us to lose that much, it’s a real hardship for us in particular.”

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