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Bill introduced to aid rural schools

Kara Fox
Sierra Sun

A federal bill introduced last week in Congress could save rural school districts in California from making major funding cuts, but proponents of the legislation say it has to be approved soon to make a difference.

The legislation calls for re-authorizing the Secure Rural Schools and Communities Self Determination Act, which provides $65 million annually for schools and roads to California’s rural counties containing national forests. Congress let the law expire before adjourning last session.

“Unless we extend the life of this law, many of our communities will suffer great financial setbacks, which will hit schools the hardest,” said Rep John Doolittle (R-Calif.) in a news release. Doolittle is a co-sponsor of the bill, which is being led by Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.).

Jim French, Trinity County schools superintendent and vice president of the National Forest Counties and Schools Coalition, said he is hopeful the bill will pass, but said Congress needs to act by March 15 ” when school districts are required by law to tell teachers whether they need them for the following school year or not.

“We really need to know by March 15 or there will be massive teacher layoffs,” French said. “We’re saying it constitutes an emergency.”

Placer County currently receives nearly $1.7 million under the plan, while Nevada County receives $788,587, said French. Counties split the money evenly between roads and schools.

Tahoe Truckee Unified School District Superintendent Dennis Williams has said his district would lose $262,600. He said the district would have to do a budget adjustment if it does not receive the funds.

Under the plan, the federal government gave money to rural counties in exchange for taking timberlands off the tax roll and creating national parks. The system worked well until the late 1980s, when logging was sharply reduced on federal land.

As revenue from logging decreased and the U.S. Forest Service was required to scale back operations, the forest counties experienced rapid increases in unemployment and depressed economies.

Smaller counties, like Sierra and Alpine counties, rely heavily on the funding and could see layoffs and school closures if the money is not reinstated.

Sierra County Schools Superintendent Mary Genasci and Sierra Plumas Joint Unified School District Superintendent Gregg Haulk are both in Washington, D.C., this week pushing members of Congress to support the bill.

French said he expects a similar bill to be introduced in the Senate by Thursday and will travel to D.C. himself next week.

“It is pretty critical that something get passed,” said Dr. James Parsons, superintendent of Alpine County schools. “It will be devastating for many, many, many rural school districts in Northern California if it doesn’t pass.”

” The Union newspaper western Nevada County contributed to this report.


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