Schools, county juggle $45K in federal funds

September 03, 2003 11:00 pm

By CLAIRE ST. JOHN

It's not often schools have money to give to the county.

This year, to help ease the county's budget woes — and show the federal government that Tuolumne County is doing the right thing — county Superintendent of Schools Joe Silva offered $45,000.

But with all the talk of underfunded schools, where does that kind of offering come from?

It's a little complicated:

Each year, the county gets federal money from the 2000 Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act.

The Act provides every county with a varying amount of money to make up for declining national forest timber-sales receipts that once helped fund roads and schools.

Last year, Tuolumne County got $2 million.

But there are strings attached: 85 percent of the pot is split between schools and roads. The remaining 15 is divided between school-sponsored forestry programs and Stanislaus National Forest improvements, like watershed protection or fire prevention.

The $45,000 Silva kicked back to the county is the 7.5 percent that had been earmarked for after-school and summertime forestry programs.

The county can't use the cash Silva gave back to repair potholes or hire deputies. It has to be spent on projects recommended by a county-appointed Resource Advisory Committee made up of representatives of different forest-interest groups, like environmentalists, ranchers, loggers and Native American tribes.

But not every county has an RAC.

The ones that don't can keep the Act's cash under a less-restrictive designation, allowing them to use less for federal lands and more for local projects.

The Act comes up for renewal in 2006. Federal lawmakers have sent signals that if they don't feel counties are using the money properly, they won't reinstate the Act.

Schools and transportation officials would again have to depend on receipts from National Forest timber sales, and those receipts have plummeted over the last 15 years, said Steve Boyack, Tuolumne County natural resources analyst.