IM this article to a friend!

February 3, 2004

Special ed. costs put Richmond in the hole

From: Brunswick Times Record - Feb 3, 2004



RICHMOND - Townspeople will decide next month about how to fill a $70,000 hole in the Richmond School Department special education budget.

A special town meeting has been scheduled for 7 p.m. March 16 at Richmond High School to address costs related to technology and support staff needed to educate a kindergarten student who has special needs. Selectmen were briefed on the situation during their meeting last Wednesday, according to Town Manager David Peppard.

Superintendent of Schools Denison Gallaudet said school department staff had overspent the limit in the special education budget while trying to create a program for the student. He declined to specify how the funds were spent, citing a 1974 federal law that protects the confidentiality of student records.

In Gallaudet's five years as superintendent in Richmond, he has seen the special education budget go over what was allotted one other time to meet a student's needs. The costs involved a high school student who had transferred into the district.

Unfunded mandate

The federal government mandates that all public school districts in the United States make every reasonable effort to meet the needs of all students, regardless of physical or mental disability or learning disorder.

The requirements are spelled out in the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, (Public Law 94-142), which was passed in 1975. It was crafted to support state and local efforts to meet the needs of children with disabilities, according to the Department of Education's Web site,

The law states that schools must assure a free, appropriate public education to all children with disabilities.

But the law is flawed, according to state and local education officials, because it does not provide school systems with enough money to meet its goal. Such an unfunded mandate strains local school budgets, especially in cases where extra staffing or adaptive equipment is needed to meet the specific needs of an individual student.

When that student has not previously been enrolled in the school district, as is the case with a kindergartner or transfer, it is difficult for school officials to anticipate special education costs when formulating the annual budget.

Problems created by the need to meet unexpected special education costs are magnified in small school districts like Richmond, where a new $70,000 expense represents a larger percentage of the overall budget than it would in bigger districts with much larger budgets.

Richmond school officials have fewer options in seeking to tap other district accounts to offset the spike in special education costs, according to Gallaudet. Hence, the school system has decided to go back to the town for additional funding.

Richmond schools have about 120 students who receive special education services, Gallaudet said. That total represents roughly 18 percent of the district's 620 students. He said the state average for students in special education is 18 percent.

The Richmond School Department has a $4.6 million budget for the current academic year, and about $583,000 goes to special education, Gallaudet said. The federal government pays about $119,000 for special education.

The state also contributes to special education, but Gallaudet could not give a specific amount. State funding for special education is grouped with other funds, such as for transportation.

Peppard said residents may have the chance to attend a public hearing several weeks before the special town meeting so they can learn more about school expenses.

(C) 2004 All Rights Reserved