FARMINGTON — In response to unexpected special education costs, the Regional School Unit 9 superintendent has implemented a budget freeze effective immediately until the end of the fiscal year.

The budget freeze, implemented Monday, will affect all of the schools in the school district. Expenditures for supplies needed to teach curriculum are excluded from the budget freeze, Superintendent Tom Ward said Thursday.

In its $32.04 million 2015-2016 budget, the district had budgeted $138,000 for four special education students to be placed outside the district.

With new families moving into the district, Ward said, a total of nine students have been placed in schools outside the district since the beginning of the school year.

Students who have mental health needs that cannot be met by RSU 9’s special education day programs are placed outside the district, where their needs can be met. RSU 9 pays up to $35,000 for a student’s placement and transportation costs. Any funding exceeding $35,000 per student spent by the district is reimbursed by the state, Ward said.

The projected cost of the nine out-of-district placements for the school year is $313,000. A special education contingency fund containing $140,000 will be used to help make up the difference between the projected costs and the budgeted $138,000.

“Between the freezing and our contingency (fund), I think we are going to be able to cover it,” Ward said. “I expect it to be tight, but we will make it.”

Within the school district, four additional education technicians had to be hired for a total of $80,000, Ward said. The technicians provide one-on-one support for students in the district’s special education day treatment programs.

Originally, district officials anticipated having to hire six education technicians to make it through the end of the school year, but they were able to move some positions around to make hiring only four suffice, Ward said.

Ward said contingency money is helping the school district make up for the unexpected costs, but in the future the district is going to work with MaineCare in an effort to be reimbursed by the state for some special education costs.

A social worker was hired by the district in December as the coordinator of the day treatment programs. Her position also will include coordinating the MaineCare billing.

Ward said that through the remainder of the school year, the district expects to get $200,000 in special education funding back through the MaineCare reimbursements.

Funding spent on the district’s special education day programs will qualify for reimbursement.

The day programs were set up from the beginning to save the district money by not having to place every student who needed special education assistance out of the district, Ward said.

“We knew to save the district money we needed to form day treatment programs. And we have saved the district over $500,000 doing that,” Ward said. “(We’re starting) with MaineCare because we’re trying to do the best we can within the budget.”

If MaineCare reimbursement goes as planned, Ward expects the district to make back $800,000 to $1 million in the 2016-2017 budget.

In June, an initial proposed budget of $32.35 million was rejected by voters in the 10 towns RSU 9 serves, 741-1045. The $32.04 million budget was narrowly approved by voters in July after the RSU 9 board of directors cut more than $200,000 out of the budget.

RSU 9 includes Chesterville, Farmington, Industry, New Sharon, New Vineyard, Starks, Temple, Vienna, Weld and Wilton.

The budget expires June 30. Ward said the budget process for next year begins March 1.

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate

 


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