WASHINGTON D.C.• U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan met with Silver Valley Unified Superintendent Marc Jackson and other educational leaders to discuss the heavy impacts of sequestration cuts.
Duncan, Jackson and superintendents from other school districts in the country were at the 2013 spring conference for the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill on Monday.
Among the topics were how each superintendent planned to cope with drastic cuts to their budgets. Each educator led schools that served either large numbers of children of military members or Native Americans — districts that rely uniquely on federal funding.
Sixty-one percent of students in the SVUSD are military-dependent, Jackson said.
"(Duncan) really spoke passionately that 'this hurts kids, this hurts programs,'" Jackson said of the education secretary's address. "He really wanted the American public to know the issues we're faced with — from a state level, district level and school level."
The meeting covered a wide variety of issues, Jackson said, and he was one of six superintendents given an opportunity afterward to field questions from the press, including CNN, Fox News, ABC and the Huffington Post.
The day before, Jackson and two other SVUSD officials were involved in working sessions to discuss the basics of impact aid, which Jackson explained could be wiped out after 10 years of planned sequestration cuts.
SVUSD stands to lose somewhere in the neighborhood of $700,000 of impact aid over the next year and a half, Jackson said last Friday.
On Tuesday, he took part in a California Association of Federally Impacted Schools meeting, a state organization he will be president of next year, and met with aides from the camps of California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, as well as with Rep. Paul Cook, R-Yucca Valley, and his aides.
After all these meetings, the current sentiment in D.C. is frustration, Jackson observed.
"Everyone that I've talked to here knows sequestration is a bad thing," he said via phone Tuesday while waiting to board the plane to Philadelphia which would return him home. "They don't agree with it, but we don't have the answer to get away from it."
But SVUSD is prepared to deal with it, he said.
"We heard sequestration was looking at us in the face last fall," he said.
The district is currently looking to the 2013-14 school year and will bring a budget to the school board, strategically planning which programs to move forward with.
Programs that won't be cut, Jackson said adamantly, are ones that have proven to be successful. If that means the district has to fund a teacher for its pre-school in Fort Irwin (which it did this year after the county couldn't) or chip in for bus costs associated with its Headstart program in Newberry Springs (which it did after reps told them they couldn't afford the $98,000 annual expenditure anymore) — so be it.
"One of our goals is fiscal sustainability," he said. "We are prepared to deal with (sequestration) issues head on. We have reserves that our very healthy. We are also not afraid to support programs that are important to us."
He's explained what it will require to make it all happen — continued effective teamwork from everyone involved within the district — but he said they can't afford to lose ground on the last three to five years of progress.
"In life sometimes, you take two steps forward and one step back. You ever hear that?" he asked rhetorically. "Sequestration is one step back ... but we're going to make it work."
Shea Johnson may be reached at (760) 256-4126 or at SJohnson@DesertDispatch.com.