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Bristol Schools Seek Hefty Budget Increase For Special Education

Bristol Schools Seek Hefty Budget Increase For Special Education
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After two years of deep deficits, the school administration is asking for a hefty boost in special education spending.

Educators are proposing a $113.6 million budget for the next fiscal year, with about $30 million of that targeted to special education.

Overall, spending for Bristol’s roughly 8,000-student school system would rise by nearly 3 percent if the city approves the request this spring.

Most of the budget would be relatively flat, but special education spending would climb by more than 20 percent. Administrators propose a 43 percent increase for the cost of transporting students, and a 57 percent increase to cover the cost of tuition for students sent to special programs.

“In the past several years we’ve run into a deficit situation,” Michael Dietter, director of special services, told the finance board Monday night.

He cautioned that even with the increase, there’s no guarantee that Bristol won’t face unexpected special education costs next year. Those expenses fluctuate sharply — and without warning — when special education students move in or out of the city.

“If there are students who arrive in Bristol and require services, we’re obligated to provide those services,” Dietter said.

Federal and state regulations strictly dictate the level of service that communities must provide to disabled and other special education students. In previous years, school board members have noted that the addition of eight or 10 seriously disabled students in the middle of the school year can throw the budget seriously out of line.

More than 1,500 of the city’s students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade are eligible for special education. Most receive extra services in Bristol, but the city must pay to send some to specialized programs in Enfield, Milford and elsewhere across the state. Transportation expenses alone can run $200 a day in those cases, and more if a monitor or medical attendant is needed.

Superintendent Sue Moreau is asking for three additional special education teachers next year; one at each high school, and the other to develop an autism program at the middle school level. The schools are also seeking money to hire four aides for special education classes.

In addition, Moreau noted that the school board is recommending Bristol add four more school resource officers to provide security. That expense wouldn’t be covered by the school budget, however, since those jobs are assignments of the police department.

In late April, the finance board is scheduled to endorse a budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. It would cover education and all city government expenses.

The final decision doesn’t come until May 7, however, when the city council and finance board meet jointly to vote on a plan. They can either raise it, reduce it or leave it intact; either way, their decision is binding and sets the tax rate for the next year.

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