Don’t shoot the messenger.
That’s what Liberty County School System Assistant Superintendent Jason Rogers asked of board of education members as he relayed information about the local system’s lack of funds from the federal government’s Impact Aid Program.
"Have you ever seen the movie "The Perfect Storm"? Because that’s kind of what we have brewing out there as far as Impact Aid," Rogers said during a Thursday BoE meeting. "You’ve got the pie staying the same, but you’ve got more kids you’ve got to serve with that pie."
The federal Impact Aid Program disperses about 10 percent of the district’s overall budget — about $8 to 9 million a year — and the district has not yet received the funds for the 2010-11 school year.
"It is April the 14th, and we have yet to receive one penny of impact aid this year. We don’t know when we’re going to get it, but all I can say is thank goodness for our reserve," Rogers said.
At the beginning of each year, the LCSS sends out a membership survey for parents to take so the district knows its status as far as the military-connected population — which increases the amount the system will get back in Impact Aid.
"It goes to assist us with operational costs, assistance in the area of transportation, local-teacher supplements, construction," Rogers said of the Impact Aid funds. "We use it for a host of different things. It is the federal government’s way of paying its share of property taxes."
Liberty County schools have a 42-percent student population that is "federally connected," meaning that parents or guardians are working for the federal government in some way, which impacts how much aid LCSS gets from the government, Rogers said.
"In meeting with the legislators, we think that hopefully we’ll get some payments in the month of June, but look at what we’ve done — we’ve operated a whole entire school year on reserves," he said.
Rogers said the legislative meeting was the same story of the legislators doing the best they can with what they have in terms of finances to disperse to schools that are full of military dependents. One of the reasons LCSS is at the bottom of the list is because the school system receives a large amount of funds from property taxes and other sources, decreasing the district’s needs for immediate funding.
Other schools that depend on the federal government for full funding — such as Indian reservations — receive the money first, dropping school systems such as Liberty’s down to the bottom of the stack when it comes to early disbursement.
"We basically have had to operate off of reserves. We’re not fully funded by the state. We either have to make that up through property taxes or our reserves," Rogers said.
Superintendent Judy Scherer emphasized the importance of having reserves for cases such as the federal government withholding Impact Aid funds, which has occurred for the past three years she has been superintendent.
"This is why it is so important that we keep a reserve, and sometimes we’re criticized by the public for having money in the bank. That reserve keeps us from having to borrow money," Scherer said. "And yes, it is hard to wait all year for this funding, but at least we’re fortunate as a school system to have that reserve to cover."
Last year the money didn’t arrive until June, and Scherer said it won’t be a surprise if that happens again this year.
"Without the reserve, we would be in trouble. It’s just like having a savings account at home. Having that reserve as a system allows us to continue to operate as the money gets here," said Scherer, who also said the late funds then replenish the reserve fund. "For us, Impact Aid is just one source along with state money and property taxes. It’s really important for our school system."