'Special needs' to cost Region 12

After two years of minimal increases in school budgets, Superintendent of Schools Bruce Storm has proposed a 3.87 percent increase for 2011-12 for Region 12.

His budget proposal is $21,596,608, some $305,900 less than administrative requests.

"We sought yet again to limit the size of our requests, which in many cases remain level in funding," Dr. Storm said at Monday's budget hearing at Shepaug Valley High School.

"Unlike the prior two years' requests," he continued, "a limited number of enhancements are included, as well as the restoration of some substantial line item reductions."

Budget drivers included property and program improvements that increased by $238,174, or 145.94 percent. The jump was fueled in part by capital facilities requests and the need for a maintenance/electrician employee.

Transportation and out-of-district education services rose by $288,686, or 13.06 percent, as a result of higher out-of-district special education tuition and transportation costs of $382,446.

This amount was offset by a decrease of $57,408 with the elimination of mid-day busing for kindergarten.

"An unexpected arrival of special education students occurred in September," Dr. Storm said.

"They were not part of our fiscal year 2011 budget request and their arrival or placement in special programs elsewhere required extraordinary monitoring of the overall budget," he explained, "and a spending freeze in the current year to cover those costs. This budget request allocates funding for their needs."

Finance committee chairman Valerie Andersen believes Dr. Storm's budget proposal is "a good one."

"The increase that we see is largely to special needs kids we are morally and legally obligated to provide for. It is what Region 12 does best," Mrs. Andersen said. "We can offer alternative programs, but it comes at a price."

Dr. Storm also addressed the declining student population in Region 12.

It is a decline predicted to continue into the next decade.

There are fixed costs remaining and increasing annually "regardless of enrollment drops in each K through 5 school," he said.

The current net expenditure per pupil is $19,782, a figure he anticipates will continue to rise unless "fixed expenses are relaxed."

Dr. Storm outlined solutions that would occur in coming years. They include staffing adjustments, the reconfiguration of grade levels with "grouping of multiple grades, permitting like-subject, multi-grade instruction."

The movement of grade levels between the two smallest elementary schools will likely occur, he said.

The middle school will see a redeployment of teaching staff and a mixing of grade levels in teams. Some of that will begin in the 2011-12 school year.

The proposed fiscal year 2012 budget reduces one full-time equivalency teaching position at the high school.

"Overall, Dr. Storm's proposal seems very reasonable," said board member Michael Sinatra. "He's trying to keep concerns about spending in check."

"Unfortunately, we have areas of expense we hadn't counted on including in special education," he added. "Our hands are tied on that."

The superintendent's budget proposal for 2011-12 is $21,596,608. For each of the towns in the district:

Bridgewater $5,092,211; increase of $159,629;

Roxbury $6,663,619; increase of $420,153;

Washington $9,479,412; increase of $331,677.