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Mason City, IA: SPED "expenses often exceed revenues"; "severity of student disabilities" worse

Sept 29, 2019, Mason City (IA) Globe Gazette: North Iowa schools face budget challenges due to increased special ed costs https://globegazette.com/news/local/north-iowa-schools-face-budget-challenges-due-to-increased-special/article_cd035f74-dafb-5201-9835-4af8097c5a03.html The costs for special education are a major challenge, according to superintendents of North Iowa school districts. Of the 312 school districts in the state, around 230 have a special education deficit each year, said Dave Versteeg, superintendent of the Mason City School District. All the school districts in North Iowa had a special education deficit for the 2018-19 fiscal year, according to statistics from the Iowa Department of Education. "Funding for special education programs is generally not sufficient to fully pay for a school district’s special education programming and districts must use other general fund resources to make up the difference," Versteeg said. The deficit for the Mason City school district for 2018-19 was $3.5 million. Only six districts in the state -- Ankeny, Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, Waukee and West Des Moines -- had a higher special education negative balance. The special education deficit for the Mason City district has been over $3 million for each of the past four years, according to Versteeg. Federal law requires school districts spend whatever is necessary to provide for the educational needs of special education students, according to Versteeg…. "This is a major challenge for the school district," Versteeg said. "Annual budgeting is done to make budget-based spending decisions and ultimately control spending but special education costs are not optional. They are mandatory and can easily bust a budget because they were not planned for or anticipated." Versteeg said expenses often exceed revenues for special education because: • Severity of student disabilities has increased, as well as the cost associated with these disabilities. … "That is the real issue," said Gee, whose district had a $277,421 special education negative balance in 2018-19. Versteeg said some special education students need to have a one-on-one paraprofessional assigned to them, which can result in a large cost to the district. These costs can't be planned for because school officials don't know how many new students with special needs who require a one-on-one paraprofessional will enroll each year, he said. …