School budget projects $535K deficit due to ‘unanticipated outplacements’
As of the end of February, the Wilton Public School District has a projected operating deficit of $535,509 as a result of overages in special education outplacements and special education transportation.
“The special education outplacements are over budget due to a higher-than-anticipated number of students outplaced and a higher number needing mediations of legal settlements than anticipated,” Financial Director Ken Post told the Board of Education during its March 31 meeting.
The 2015-16 district budget allocated $2,195,000 to send students to private special education schools, $665,000 to send students to public special education schools, and $1,050,367 for “settlements and other.” As of Feb. 1, the district has spent $4,563,164 of the $3,910,367 budgeted for outplacements, resulting in a $650,796 variance.
Post said special education transportation costs — to which the 2015-16 school budget allocated $711,811 — are also over budget by $104,713, “due to the number of students being transported out of district.”
Ann Paul, assistant superintendent of special services, said there has been an “unanticipated number of outplacements” in the district due to an increase in “children with serious emotional disturbances” over the past three months.
“These were children who we did not expect to have to have this level of need,” she said. “Before we make an outplacement, we really maximize all of our resources. We felt the children were unsafe here and other children may have been unsafe.”
The district had 12 mediations last year, said Paul, and this year to date, “we’ve had 19, with three more scheduled.”
Paul said she was told by an attorney from the Due Process Unit of the Connecticut Department of Education’s Bureau of Special Education that this type of increase has been seen across the state — “certainly in Fairfield County and in the northwest section of Connecticut, which has typically been a fairly quiet spot.”
“This is not unique to Wilton,” said Paul, “but it certainly contributes to the amount of litigation we’re dealing with.”
With 33 currently outplaced students, said Paul, Wilton is “not out of line with some of [its] neighboring districts.”
“There was some confusion expressed at the [March 28 public hearing on the school budget]. I think what was stated there was that Wilton had 12 times the number of outplacements as Westport,” she said, “but in fact, we’re at 33 and Westport is at 31.”
Post said the special education overages were “partially offset by anticipated salary savings” of $225,000, “due to the fact that we had more retirements than we anticipated.”
While the district anticipates savings in gas ($75,000), FICA ($25,000), homebound, ESL and related services ($20,000), and “other” ($5,252), it is over budget by $130,252 in unemployment contributions ($25,000), district legal fees ($25,000) and retirement for classified and certified staff ($80,252).
“Collectively, these other variances have very little impact on the bottom line,” said Post.
As of Feb. 29, the district’s health benefit costs were under budget by $171,884, according to Post, who said that “this figure includes the $82,000 that the board contributed to employees’ health savings accounts.”
Health claims are projected to come in close to or under budget for the year, Post said, but “if we end the year with a deficit in the health benefits account, we will use the funds from our reserve account to offset it.”
Excess cost grant
Post said the district updated its excess cost claim on March 1 for $1,629,765.
“In recent years, the state has funded this grant at about 75%. This would equate to about $1,222,324,” he said.
“After adding back the excess cost grant, we have a net surplus of $179,217.”