Schools could be facing a big increase in special ed costs

340

Schools could be facing a big increase in special ed costs
Marlborough City Hall towers over downtown Marlborough. (Photo/Dakota Antelman)

MARLBOROUGH – The 2023 fiscal year is underway, but Marlborough Public Schools (MPS) could be bracing for a big financial hit in the 2024 fiscal year.

During the School Committee meeting on Oct. 25, Douglas Dias, director of finance and operations for MPS, said the reason for the big jump has to do with a labor shortage at the private schools, along with inflation.

Dias had received a memo from the Operational Services Division at the state Executive Office for Administration and Finance.

The division is estimating that the authorized increase in special education private schools’ tuition for FY24 will be 14%. This is up from 2.5% in FY22. Dias noted that the average increase since 2011 has been 1.8%.

“This increase in special education tuition costs would have a significant impact on the district’s FY24 operating budget,” Dias said. “Assuming all out-of-district placements remain at the same schools, this increase would equal $475,000 in additional tuition costs, or a .7% increase to the district’s overall budget.”

If Special Education Collaboratives adjust their tuition costs by a similar amount, the total new costs rise to $650,000, or nearly 1% of the district’s current School Committee appropriation, Dias said.

He noted that, if left unchanged, the special education circuit breaker reimbursement program would absorb some of these increased costs in FY25, but the FY24 impact is currently unfunded and would be the responsibility of municipalities.

Dias said this is, in effect, “an unfunded mandate.”

He added that the numbers have not been finalized.

“This is primarily a FY24 concern,” Dias said.

Dias added that the proposed increase could be reduced with one-time funds from the state, increasing the circuit breaker, or negotiating the hike “to a more reasonable number.”

“I don’t see how any district can absorb that kind of increase,” said committee member Michelle Bodin-Hettinger.

School Committee members said they planned to discuss the memo at the Massachusetts Association of School Committees conference, which took place earlier this month.

“This is outrageous,” said committee member Katherine Hennessy. “It’s absolutely ludicrous to shoulder this burden.”

The Community Advocate has reached out to the Operational Services Division for comment.

RELATED CONTENT

Westborough schools to request $930,000 for out-of-district costs