NORWALK, Conn. – Plans are being made to cover a $1.6 million shortfall in Norwalk Public Schools’ Special Education contracted services account.
NPS Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton, at Wednesday’s Board of Education Finance Committee meeting, sought to put this into a positive perspective.
“Last year at this time we had out of district tuitions running $1.7 million over budget, this year our out of district tuitions are running on budget,” Hamilton said. “Last year, the contracted services account was running $3.6 million over the original budget. So, this year, a $1.6 million overrun is not something – we obviously would prefer to have no overrun, but in the context of where we have been it’s a marked improvement.”
Special Education cost overruns have dogged the BoE for years; last year the city and the BoE set up a $2.3 million Special Education reform fund, to fuel changes over two years. The plan was to revisit the issue in early 2018 and possibly fund it for a third year.
Hamilton presented a set of proposed budget transfers totaling $949,538, of which $267,798 would go to Special Education contracted services.
Other items needing to be covered included $125,000 for substitutes, $30,000 for substitute SpEd paraprofessionals, $60,000 for legal fees, $200,000 in contract negotiations and $27,000 to settle a grievance related to the middle school redesign.
There are a lot of contract negotiations, factoring into additional legal fees, Hamilton said.
The Finance Department believes that there will be about $1 million available at the end of the fiscal year in the wage accounts, Hamilton said. A district-wide spending freeze was imposed on May 1, and it’s believed that this will generate about $500,000 in budget savings from the various accounts, he said, naming supplies, energy costs and instructional accounts.
The wage account surplus stems partially from staff turnover, with retirees working at a higher rate than their replacements, and positions kept open for a while, he said. There have also been changes in assumptions made with contracts.
“There’s been, I think, some really great progress in the area of ‘Special Ed’ in terms of getting control of these expenditures,” Hamilton said.
Processes have been strengthened and improved, he said, echoing comments made at a recent Ad Hoc Special Education Committee meeting.
“For the first time in maybe ever, everything is fully encumbered, we have contracts in place for every service, contracts in place for every out of district tuition,” Hamilton said. “We can accurately project our expenses going forward. Even as recently as September/October we didn’t have those elements in place.”
Finance Committee Chairman Bryan Meek asked if next year’s budget is in order.
“We’re OK with the tuition,” Hamilton said. “We believe we need to find a way to adjust contracted services.”
If – if – Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposed increase to Special Education funding goes through, NPS would receive an additional $1.6 million, Hamilton said.
“If not, there are some things we are doing to try to control these expenses and try to bring these expenses bring down,” Hamilton said. “(It’s) sort of a peak in Fiscal Year 16. We are running at about $5.5 million and the budget as it now stands next year is only $3.6 million.”