Saturday, 04 December 2021

Schools, roads funding in danger


Here in Lake County, more than $1 million could potentially be lost.


The law in question is the Secure Rural Schools and Communities Self-Determination Act of 2000, also known as the county payments law.


The bill uses a formula that provides funds for county services - primarily education and roads - in rural areas, based on historical timber receipts.


California's most recent payment from the law was $68.9 million, said Bob Douglas, president of the National Forest Counties and Schools Coalition, based in Red Bluff, and also the Tehama County superintendent of schools. Idaho received, $24.1 million and Washington state got $46.9 million. The state with the largest payments is Oregon, which received $249 million.


Thanks to the bill, Lake County in 2005 received $1,015,182, Douglas reported.


“That money is split 50-50 between the county road department and county schools,” said Kelly Cox, Lake County's chief administrative officer.


The road department alone, he said, received $431,000 from the county payments law.


“That just a huge source of revenue for the roads department,” Cox said. “It would be devastating to lose that revenue.”


The county payments law expired in September. However, legislation to renew the bill – S267 - was submitted nearly two years ago, in February 2005, by Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and Idaho Sen. Larry Craig.


Geoff Stuckart, a spokesman at Wyden's Portland office, said now Wyden and Gordon Smith, his fellow Oregon senator, are filing amendments to approve a one-year extension of the law.


Their proposal would provide a revenue stream for county payments by withholding federal taxes from payments the federal government makes to government contractors providing goods and services. The federal government does not currently withhold taxes on payments made to government contractors and a recent study by the Government Accountability Office revealed that a surprisingly large number of those contractors have never paid their federal taxes.


“We had found money to pay the rural schools,” said Congressman Mike Thompson, who signed on as a co-author on the bill.


Thompson noted that the legislation called for beginning the tax withholdings on contractors several years earlier, a proposal that met with opposition from business interests.


“The majority (in Congress) couldn't deal with it,” he said, thus it never received a vote.


Congress' inaction angers Douglas. “We have been working for two years now to try to convince Congress to reauthorize the bill and prevent us from getting to this edge of the cliff that we're all dealing with right now,” he said.


He explained that the money helps more than 9 million children in 4,400 school districts across the nation, a breakdown of a mere 50 cents per child.


Douglas said members of Congress have claimed they deferred the bill due to other budget constraints. “I believe it wasn't renewed because they have not made a full commitment in a bipartisan way for them to come together and find the funding and find the solution,” he said.


He plans to be in Washington this month to lobby for the law's renewal because, he said, if it doesn't pass then, the funding will be lost.


Douglas said he hopes this new Congress will find the money, because the effects would be devastating for rural schools. In California alone, he said, there are counties such as Sierra and Trinity whose school districts may go bankrupt and be forced to start closing schools if the funding doesn't materialize.


Those “dire steps,” he said, could begin as early as February, if the bill doesn't go through. State and local taxes may be called upon in an attempt to fill the gap, he said.


Meanwhile, he said, Congress did make sure to reauthorize a voucher program for District of Columbia-area schools. “I guess I have trouble understanding why the 9 million rural children that are affected by the secure rural schools bill did not have equal treatment by the members of Congress,” he said.


The government likes to talk about its No Child Left Behind program, he said. “By their inaction on this they've essentially said that No Child Left Behind is a privilege for those who live in urban and suburban areas.”


Despite the troubling outlook, Cox is hopeful. “I'm sure it will pass,” he said of the law.


Dave Geck, superintendent of Lake County's Office of Education (LCOE), said the county's schools split the education portion of the revenue.


Mike Casey, LCOE's director of business services, reported that the schools' total portion for 2005-06 amounted to $431,452.35, which is split between the county's districts based on the amount of Forest Service land in the district's boundaries and the number of students schooled in the district who are the children of Forest Service employees.


The school districts usually place the money into their general funds, said Casey.


Geck said LCOE's portion, $44,008.14, is used to support technical services and Taylor Observatory programs.


The lion's share goes to Upper Lake's high school and elementary school, said Casey, which receive $125,000 and $116,000 respectively.


There is one year of payments left, said Casey, and then the money runs out unless the bill is reauthorized.


Casey said the funding cut could have a tremendous impact on staffing in Upper Lake's affected districts.


Other avenues of funding are very tight, said Casey, with a likelihood of reduced programs and personnel, the latter category accounting for about 85 percent of most districts' total expenditures, he said.


“Bake sales only go so far,” he said.


Patrick Iaccino, superintendent/principal of the Upper Lake High School District, said he's watching the forestry bill. “We're just waiting to see what happens with it.”


He said he hopes Congress will revisit what the bill means to small schools. However, he's also looking at other grants in order to avoid closing programs or laying off staff.


“We're trying to be proactive,” he explained.


He's enjoyed some success so far, he said, with the district named the recipient of a grant that would offer $176,000 for as many as four years, depending on the school's performance on state tests. Iaccino said he's development a school and district plan for the grant.


Iaccino also said he'll know later this month if the school qualifies for some other significant grants.


On Jan.4, the first day of work for the 110th Congress, Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio and Greg Walden introduced HR 17, the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Reauthorization Act of 2007, which would reauthorize the law for seven more years.


There is no word yet on when the bill might begin making its way through Congress.


On the Web: National Forest Counties and Schools Coalition, www.forestco.tcde.tehama.k12.ca.us/

 

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

What local districts receive from the county payments law

Kelseyville - $23,630.31

Konocti - $26,063.73

Lakeport - $30,268.04

Middletown - $10,354.86

Lucerne - $16,442.88

Upper Lake Elementary - $116,419.11

Upper Lake High - $125,434.57

Lake County Office of Education - $44,008.14

Mendocino-Lake Community College - $34,947.64

Yuba Community College - $3,883.07

 

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