Shrewsbury leaders voice concerns about special education tuition hike

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Shrewsbury leaders voice concerns about special education tuition hike
Shrewsbury’s Town Hall stands within the town’s municipal campus off Maple Street. (Photo/Laura Hayes)

SHREWSBURY – Like other communities across the region and state, Shrewsbury leaders are bracing for a 14% increase in the tuition for special education private schools.

Members of the School Committee and Select Board voiced concerns during a joint meeting on Dec. 6 to review the town’s financial forecast for fiscal year 2024.

According to School Committee Chair Lynsey Heffernan, the state sets a maximum amount of how much out-of-district schools can increase their tuition for Shrewsbury students who require special education services.

Assistant Superintendent of Operations and Finance Patrick Collins said private schools were having a difficult time attracting and maintaining employees to teach within the “intensive” special education curriculum, resulting in an increase to their salaries.

This fall, the Operational Services Division at the state’s Executive Office for Administration and Finance authorized the 14% increase.

According to Collins, the average annual increase of out-of-district placement for special education students falls between zero and three percent, with the average being two and a half percent. But, he called the 14% increase “out of the norm.”

Collins said there has been a “groundswell of activity” amongst various professional associations to mitigate the increase.

“We’re not sure how it’s gong to play out, but there has certainly been a lot of activity to have people reconsider that 14% increase,” he said.

According to Heffernan, the School Committee planned to reach out to the State House and local officials to learn more about the 14% increase.

However, she noted that though they need to hear the School Committee’s concerns, it is also important for residents to speak up about the increase, noting that the town is the one bearing the cost.

“We’re in this together,” Heffernan said.

Override fund may have longer duration

During this meeting, Town Manager Kevin Mizikar also shared that the education budget for fiscal 2024 is projected to include a 4.75% increase for a total of $83,086,622.

Shrewsbury established an override stabilization fund in the wake of an approval of a $9.5 million Proposition 2½ override in May 2021.

After the approval, Superintendent Joe Sawyer called it a “watershed” moment and the district would have a “much-improved and stable financial situation” for the next couple of years.

According to Mizikar, 60% of override funds must be allocated to education.

For fiscal year 2024, Mizikar said no money would be drawn out from the override stabilization fund. Further, $1.8 million would be allocated to the fund.

“We are contributing more to the override stabilization fund and have a longer duration than we originally anticipated in March of 2021,” he said.

Before the town approved the Proposition 2½ override, Mizikar said town staff projected a four-year duration of the override fund. However, Mizikar said if the town “spends at lower levels” Shrewsbury could draw from the fund for an additional two years.

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