The Bedminster Township School District is beginning to prepare a 2013-2014 budget—and already looking at $800,000 in extra costs for special education.
“It is over a 100 percent increase from this year,” said board of education vice president Jeffrey Reaves at a recent board of education meeting.
Business administrator Phil Acosta said the district is currently facing many budgetary challenges because of this increase.
“We have had some pretty major unexpected expenses, which will carry into the 2013-2014 budget,” he said.
These unexpected expenses are all about additional special education costs, that are rising from $280,000 allowed for in the 2012-2013 budget to $800,000 needed in the upcoming budget.
Superintendent Carolyn Koos said this is unexpected, but there is no control over it.
“Every year we have unexpected expenses, but this was extraordinary,” Acosta said. “These are for out-of-district placements.”
And the state is not contributing as much money as it has in the past to aid in the costs.
Currently, Acosta said, the school district receives special education funding based on the number of special education students as of the preceding Oct. 15. If students needing special education services move to the district after that, they are not included in the calculation for special education aid.
“If they remain in our school until the following Oct. 15, then they will be included,” he said. “But it will be two budget years after they moved into the district.”
“To make matters worse, the district they came from will receive special education aid for them even though they no longer attend their school,” he added.
Still, board member Brian Haggerty said, they have to take care of these kids.
“The state had at one point supported local districts financially in those matters, and they stopped doing that,” he said. “We are still dealing with helping families that need it.”
Haggerty said the district has made a commitment to maintaining special education opportunities for students. And most of these additional costs are coming from having to send students out of district for special education requirements according to their individual IEPs.
“We have to take care of these kids, and we can’t leave them to their own devices,” he said.
But at this point, Acosta said, they are having to prepare the budget with these additions before certain deadlines arrive.
The state aid figures are expected from Gov. Chris Christie around Feb. 28, and Acosta said they are expecting them to be flat.
“So essentially by the end of February, we really have to have the budget pretty much in place as far as recommendations from the superintendent and approval from the board,” he said.
And if state aid numbers change, Acosta said, they will have to move quickly to make changes.
A preliminary budget is due to the county superintendent by March 7, Acosta said.
“And we have to have a board meeting and public hearing to be ready for that,” he said. “That only gives us a week after the state aid figures come through.”
“And then we have until the end of March to finalize the budget,” he added.
Reaves said they are still trying to stay under the 2 percent cap for the budget, but right now, the district is way above that to accommodate all the unexpected special education costs.
“We’re above that by quite a bit right now, so everything has to be looked at with a fine-toothed comb,” he said. “We will be revisiting shared services with Somerset Hills and the township.”
“All feedback and comments throughout this time will be solicited,” he added. “It is going to be a very intense period.”