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Shelton, CT: Schools face $2M SPED shortfall; 'We need to cover rising special education costs'

May 8, 2022, Shelton (CT) Herald: Shelton schools facing $2M budget gap, freeze spending

The school district has implemented a “soft freeze” on spending through the rest of the fiscal year as it moves to mitigate some $2 million in overages, according to Superintendent Ken Saranich.

The $2 million is a result of unexpected special education costs, according to Saranich. Overall, the district has 744 special education students - 94 of which have entered the district since July 1, 2021.

“We’ve put a soft freeze on district spending until the end of the school year,” Saranich said. The additional special education costs come from tuition and transportation fees. The spending freeze, Saranich said, leaves the district with a potential $300,000 deficit at the end of the fiscal year, but that can be covered by funds in the health insurance reserve account.

Board of Education member Diana Meyer, head of the board’s finance subcommittee, praised the administration for its efforts to mitigate the budget gap.

Meyer said many communities in the state have had to go back to their cities for additional funds to cover these overages, so the Shelton Board of Education finding ways to avoid that move was “a huge win.”

According to school Finance Director Todd Heffelfinger’s April finance report, special education tuition and related transportation costs are over budget by some $2 million.

Looking at the overall 2021-22 education budget, Hefelfinger projects a $309,000 overage, putting the spending at just over $73.8 million.

Saranich said about 1 percent (seven students) of the 744 special education students are outplaced.

“That 1 percent comes with a heavy price tag,” said Saranich adding that on average an outplaced student could cost the district about $150,000 in tuition and transportation costs. With that in mind, Saranich said he has relayed his concerns to Mayor Mark Lauretti and the Board of Aldermen about the potential special education costs that could be ahead in next year’s budget.

“We need to cover the rising special education costs,” Saranich said. “If we do not get funds beyond what has already been allocated for special education, we will be in a similar situation next year, but worse because the federal grant money ends at the end of next year.”…

To maintain present staff and programs, Heffelfinger has stated that the 2022-23 fiscal year budget would need to be $75.7 million, a $2.2 million increase from the present year and about $700,000 more than Lauretti recommended.

“I think (Lauretti and the aldermen) understand this,” Saranich said about the burgeoning special education costs. “Now it’s just a matter of time for everyone to find the best way to fund this in the municipal budget.”

Newly promoted Superintendent of Schools Ken Saranich poses in front of the Board of Education offices in Shelton, Conn. Nov. 5, 2020.


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