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Ridgefield, CT: "The biggest contributor to the projected deficit is special education"

Jan 18, 2018, Ridgefield (CT) Press: School budget woes: Staff, sports could be chopping block https://www.theridgefieldpress.com/101420/school-budget-woes-staff-sports-could-be-chopping-block/ Staff cuts, no sports — those are the options Ridgefield’s public school system may face if its money problems can’t be solved, Superintendent Dr. Karen Baldwin told the Board of Finance. The school system has a projected deficit of about $1.2 million for the current year, 2017-18. If it isn’t addressed by an additional appropriation — which would mean action by the finance board, and then a town meeting — what steps could school authorities take to right the fiscal ship? … Special education, rising costs The biggest contributor to the projected deficit is special education. The 2017-18 budget anticipated spending $2,030,000 on tuition for “out of district placements” of 19 students with special needs beyond what the Ridgefield Schools could address in-house. But an additional seven students were placed in out-of-district schools, at a cost of just under $525,000. The school system is also over budget on “settlements” with families involved in quasi-judicial “due process” proceedings to appeal for changes in the education plans for special needs students. Again, this is money that would usually go toward private school placement or other services engaged by the parents — sometimes unilaterally. “They’re awarded a settlement to gain access to a program,” Baldwin explained. “They want to go Green Chimneys,” she said, offering a hypothetical case of a family seeking to send a child to the private special education school in Brewster, NY. “It’s $60,000. We say ‘We’re educating your child well.’ We say ‘We won’t pay $60, we’ll pay $25’ — and it goes through attorneys.”… “We’re currently in two due process proceedings,” Baldwin said. “The attorneys’ fees are going to be upwards of $150,000.” As of the Nov. 30 school financial report that Baldwin discussed with the finance board Jan. 16, the schools had budgeted $819,000 for 14 settlements, but settlements concerning an additional 10 students were expected to cost nearly another $499,000. Other costs that are over budget include $200,000 in unexpected nursing costs. “The district has had to hire through an agency three one-to-one nurses for three medically fragile children,” the financial report says. “In addition there are agency nurses who ride buses to monitor children with life-threatening allergies and other serious medical conditions …The unplanned cost of these nurses is $200,000.” …