Meeting with the Edgecomb Budget Committee Monday, March 21, the Edgecomb School Committee and school administrators unveiled the projected local share of education expenses for Edgecomb in 2016-2017, which is an 11 percent increase from the previous year.
The driving forces behind the increase are declining revenue and soaring special education costs, school officials said.
The projected $2,666,336 budget for 2016-2017 is a 5 percent or $127,154 increase from the current budget of $2,539,182. With declining revenue from the state and an unassigned general fund balance of zero, the town’s share of education costs is projected to increase by $236,943, or 11 percent.
Due to Edgecomb’s financial position in 2015, the Edgecomb Eddy School applied the school’s entire surplus of $125,000, which had accumulated over a number of years, to reduce the local share in 2015-2016, school committee Chair Sarah Clifford said.
While the Edgecomb Eddy School will receive $22,000 in tuition for out-of-town students, total revenue is projected to decrease by about $109,000 in 2016-2017.
While the town is facing a hike in its share of education costs, the Edgecomb Eddy School has worked hard to flat-line its budget, AOS 98 Superintendent Eileen King said.
The lion’s share of the $127,000 increase in expenditures is driven by special education costs, King said. Schools across the state are experiencing the same problem with skyrocketing mental health and behavioral issues in students, King said.
The issues students are experiencing and the costs of providing them an education are so extreme there is discussion at the state level about the state eliminating its current funding model and instead solely funding special education, King said.
Special education costs are responsible for $117,000 of the $127,000 increase in Edgecomb’s education budget, King said. Of Edgecomb’s $441,465 special education budget for 2016-2017, $87,778 is for out-of-district tuition costs, King said. “It’s what’s required to meet their needs,” King said.
Edgecomb is responsible for 146 students in grades K-12, and pays tuition for grades seven to 12. “If you take out special education and tuition costs, (Edgecomb Eddy School’s) budget is flat,” King said. “I’m not faulting special education. Every school is in this situation. How do we meet the needs of kids but minimize the fiscal impact?”
“You can’t blame the child,” budget committee member Karen Potter said. “You’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.”
Clifford said trying to minimize the cost to the town but meet the legal requirements for education and the needs of students is like “banging my head against a wall.”
King and Eddy School Principal Lisa Clarke spoke of the creative ways in which they have tried to maximize the resources of the school and the district to meet the needs of students.
When a special education student requires specialized programming, they first try to find a program within the AOS 98 district that meets their needs, King said. However, for some students, keeping them within the district is not possible, she said.
In discussing rising education costs, the school committee and budget committee tried to brainstorm possible solutions. With several schools in small towns under capacity, at some point municipalities will have to talk about regionalization, budget committee Chair Nort Fowler said.
Other school committees must be in the same position, Clifford said, speaking of the need to be proactive to find a solution.
“We can look at this either way,” Clifford said. “We can get upset and sad, or we can do something about it. I just don’t know who the right people are to get around the table.”