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More than half a million dollars in education funding to St. Mary’s County could be in jeopardy if Congress does not avert sequestration cuts to the federal budget before next week’s deadline.

St. Mary’s public school administrators are bracing for funding cuts that could include money to special education federal funding and schools serving a high proportion of low-income students.

Services provided by Head Start, the federal preschool program for children from low-income families administered by a local agency, could also be reduced if sequestration goes through.

Funding for these programs in St. Mary’s could be reduced by 8 percent at the start of the next fiscal year, said Greg Nourse, assistant superintendent of fiscal services and human resources. If Congress decides later to avoid the cuts, funding could be restored.

If sequestration occurs, as much as $3 billion of the $85 billion in spending cuts ordered could be to education funding across the country. It would also cut■$42.7 billion from the military budget, a 9.4 percent cut, which is expected to have a deep impact on work at Patuxent River Naval Air Station and its associated military contractors.

For the St. Mary’s schools, an 8 percent reduction in federal education spending would cut about half a million dollars from the approximately $6.4 million coming to St. Mary’s from the federal government. Another approximately $2 million that comes to local schools in the form of federal impact aid based on the number of students connected with the military is also at risk.

Nourse said he is worried about the negative effect on tax revenue to the local government if the cuts go through to the defense industry, since Pax River is the county’s economic driver.

Four local public elementary schools received most of the $2.3 million in Title I funding directed to schools to help economically disadvantaged children. Another $736,000 in Title II funding for professional development for teachers is also at risk.

“I have done a sequestration budget” based on an 8 percent cut to Title I funding, said Kelly Hall, executive director of elementary schools and Title I. “This is an impure science at this moment.”

She said her alternative budget would spare full-time teachers and paraeducators who are employed by the school system, but that the 12 to 15 temporary workers hired could be at risk of losing their jobs if sequestration goes through.

Other areas of Title I that could be cut or reduced include materials of instruction, including technology, professional development and after-school programs, Hall said.

“We are preparing for this as a worst-case scenario, and we hope it doesn’t happen,” Hall said.

St. Mary’s public schools’ special education department this year received $3.4 million from the federal government that is passed through the state.

That money is used primarily to pay for about 54 employees, including special education teachers and paraeducators, Melissa Charbonnet, executive director of special education and student services, said.

An 8 percent cut based on current funding could mean losing as many as five special education teachers or 10 paraeducators in St. Mary’s schools, she said.

Southern Maryland Tri-County Community Action Committee, a nonprofit agency that is funded through federal, state and local funding, oversees Head Start programs in St. Mary’s, Calvert and Charles counties.

Eileene Zimmer, child and family services director for the local Head Start agency, said she has received no direction from the national headquarters to prepare for cuts. But if that direction comes, she will be ready.

The tri-county group operates on a budget of $4.4 million from the federal government. An 8 percent cut would mean Zimmer would need to shave about $354,000 from the local agency’s budget.

The agency currently serves about 600 children ages 3 and 4, including 200 children and their families in St. Mary’s County at four locations.

She expects that if the cuts do go into effect she will receive guidance on reworking the local budget. She said the national office could chose to absorb some of the cuts and also could prohibit local offices from cutting anything that directly impacts children.

Some government officials recently have suggested public school systems partner with existing Head Start organizations to help expand prekindergarten in public schools.

The National Head Start Association is urging people to lobby Congress to spare the organization from cuts related to sequestration.

Head Start services could be eliminated for approximately 70,000 children if sequestration goes through, according to information from the White House released earlier this month. Groups that work with Head Start could have to lay off more than 14,000 teachers and other staff.

Nationally, Title I education funds would be eliminated for more than 2,700 schools that support more than 1 million disadvantaged students across the country, according to the White House.

About 10,000 teacher and aide jobs would be at risk, as well as some after-school programs and other interventions that help close achievement gaps.

Cuts to special education nationally could eliminate federal support to more than 7,200 teachers, aides and other staff that work with students with disabilities.

jyeatman@somdnews.com