School money in jeopardy

Brenna Swift, The Union Democrat

Mother Lode officials are upset about the prospect of sending back federal timber county subsidies.

Tuolumne and Calaveras counties both get funding from the Secure Rural Schools program, which helps timber counties make up for revenue lost when national forests reduce logging to protect wildlife.

The Obama administration recently said the payments are subject to sequestration, or trigger cuts to the federal budget, and states must return a portion of the $323 million they've been sent.

That means Tuolumne and Calaveras county school districts could be on the hook for money they've already spent, said Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools Joe Silva.

The decision about exactly how to return the timber money is ultimately Gov. Jerry Brown's. As of Friday, there was no word on whether the choice had been made, said Daniel Richardson, Tuolumne County's deputy county administrator.

Tuolumne County receives a much greater amount in timber county funding than Calaveras County because it has more forested land. Its projected funding for this fiscal year was $1.4 million.

In Tuolumne County, 85 percent of the timber county money goes to county roads and schools. Some of the remainder goes to the joint Tuolumne-Mariposa County Resource Advisory Committee for environmental projects, many related to fire prevention.

"It would be a tragedy if the county were to lose even a portion of the money because of the good these projects do," Richardson said.

Silva said he hopes the returned portion of the money comes out of the resource advisory committee's share and not funds for schools, though he acknowledged others would be upset at the loss of funding for environmental projects.

Altogether, 11 Tuolumne County school districts have gotten about $482,000 in the timber funding this year.

"I'm very frustrated that they're wanting to take money away from kids like they are," Silva said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

The Union Democrat
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