Friday, October 21, 2005
High school sees SPED growth
The Regional School Committee and Finance Committees of both Concord and Carlisle heard at a joint meeting on Thursday, October 13, that special education (SPED) costs at the Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) rose unexpectedly this past summer, when eight new students requiring SPED services moved into the school district. Another challenge to SPED budgeting is the uncertain level of state Department of Education (DOE) reimbursements.
CCHS Assistant Superintendent Diana Rigby said, "Special education costs continue to grow. At CCHS, 191 students receive special education services; this is a 7% increase over last year and 15% of the total student population. We have seen an 11% increase over the last three years due to the increasing number of special education students in the freshman class."
Out-of-district placements growing
Forty-nine students are placed out-of-district. Rigby continued, "Since 2001, out-of-district placements have increased 11% each year; this year the increase jumped to 20% ... More than 50% of the out-of-district placements experience significant mental illness." Rigby is researching "best practice" for a therapeutic environment for these students within our district, but she is not sure CCHS can provide this.
Rigby spoke about the difficulty in estimating future SPED costs. Over the summer, eight SPED students moved into town, causing $350,000 of unanticipated costs. The average cost per out-of-district student is $53,651.
State aid for SPED varies
The special education "circuit breaker" is a line-item in the DOE budget used to help local schools with the high costs of SPED services.
"The initial funding formula set the DOE reimbursement to districts at 75% of the difference between the actual cost of placement and $29,320," said Rigby. However, in the 2003-2004 school year, the state started by reimbursing towns at 29%, raising that percentage over the year to 42%. "Technology budgets were used to fund the shortfalls in SPED." said CCHS School Superintendent Brenda Finn.
Finn explained that the FY05 budget assumed the 42% reimbursement rate, but during the FY05 year, the state increased the reimbursement rate to 72%, and CCHS received additional revenue of $264,000. She said the extra money was used for Concord Area Special Education (CASE) collaborative and technology expenses, as well as a variety of other items. "These funds were spent on CASE prepayments for FY06, microscopes for science, installation of the 1992 surplus modular [classroom] from Thoreau [School] for health and fitness, outdoor lighting, music room renovation, server upgrades, ActivBoards, and locker room improvements above debt exclusion monies." When someone asked about using the funds for non-SPED purposes, a Concord FinCom member explained that such adjustments are not uncommon within a budget, whenever unexpected shortfalls or excesses occur.
Earlier this month, the district received initial circuit breaker FY06 funding at a 72% reimbursement rate.
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