Darien Public Schools are currently facing a deficit of $250,000, prompting administrators to propose reducing spending on materials that are not directly related to student instruction.
Superintendent Stephen Falcone shared this news at a Board of Education meeting on Tuesday night. The cause stems from out-of-district settlements exceeding expectations, a sharp increase in the number of special education students from last year to this year, and the likelihood of the state lowering its reimbursement rate on excess cost grants.
“In the category of no good deed goes unpunished, we are not getting as much money back on excess costs,” Superintendent Stephen Falcone said.
The number of special education students increased from 562 on October 1, 2010, to 621 on Oct, 1, 2011. One reason for the increase of 59 students stems from pre-schoolers entering the district at age three. In forming the current budget, board members in 2010-2011 used 562 students as a basis for calculating expenses.
Falcone recommended the district save money by cutting spending by $110,000 on materials that do not relate directly to student instruction. School employees will be retiring within the next seven months, which will generate additional savings.
Additionally, Falcone proposed at least considering not filling oil tanks until next year.
About 20 people came to the meeting and sat in the audience. Susan Vogel asked Falcone to specify the materials that he envisions not buying in order to make up the shortfall. In response, Falcone mentioned poster papers, books on the Civil War, instructional materials, magazines, and expensive art program materials.
Board Chairman Elizabeth Hagerty-Ross described the projected shortfall as serious. Yet, she wants to prevent it from adversely impacting the students.
“We do not want to affect the quality of education at this point in time,” Hagerty-Ross said.
Board member Clara Sartori expressed a similar sentiment.
“We will reduce spending on materials rather than cancel a program,” she said. Toward this end, the district can delay the purchase of materials for the time being. Conversely, a cancelled program is unable to be uncancelled.
Connecticut reimbursed Darien in excess cost grants at a rate of 78 percent last fiscal year. Board members and administrators predicted the state would reimburse the town at a rate between 70 percent and 74 percent this fiscal year.
“The complexities of this grant are causing us heartburn,” Richard Huot, the school district's director of finance, said. “The state is giving up on its obligations. They are passing the buck onto Darien taxpayers.”