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Colchester, CT: School board deals with "substantial rise in special education costs"

Apr 5, 2023, CT Examiner: Colchester Debates 9.83% School Budget Hike

Residents packed a four-hour meeting on Tuesday to argue for and against the Board of Education’s proposed budget increase of 9.83 percent — including a $1.2 million increase in the district’s special education costs.

The meeting, designed so that the Board of Finance could ask questions about the budget proposed by the Board of Education, also heard questions and comments from a number of members of the public asking about the possibility of alternative revenue sources and emphasizing the need to invest in the schools.

On February 23, the Board of Education voted to approve a 9.83 percent increase in the school budget, bringing the total cost to about $46.1 million. The budget increase includes additional school security officers and camera monitoring, paying for some positions previously funded through grants, as well as a substantial rise in special education costs and increases in teacher and administrative salaries.

Superintendent Dan Sullivan III told the board that the budget increase was partially driven by the elimination of the coronavirus relief grants. When the school district received the federal funding, the administration began paying some district staff salaries out of the temporary grants rather than the yearly budget. …

A memo to Sullivan from Amy Emory, the district’s director of pupil services and special education, said that the increases in cost reflected students being placed in specialized programs outside of the district, including new special education students who had just moved to the town and students needing new placements because their needs had increased.

At the meeting on Tuesday, Emory said that one student in particular, because of his highly unusual needs, had to be placed in a specialized school outside of the state of Connecticut. Although the state will reimburse the district 77 percent of the cost of special education for up to 4.5 times the cost to educate a regular education student, Emory said that because the school is outside of the state, it doesn’t qualify for reimbursement. …

Board of Education member Margo Gignac said she has watched the services available in the district decrease overtime, and has seen the differences in the schools between when her oldest child and her younger children attended — fewer English teachers, a loss of a guidance counselor, music, gym and art teachers. She pointed out that the district used to have an alternative program for students who weren’t successful in traditional school, and also used to have free preschool. …


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