A sudden rise in special education costs is the leading factor in a 10.48% hike in Nobleboro’s education budget.
The 2020-2021 budget totals $3,877,699.79, up $367,801.41 from the previous year’s budget. The special education category totals $771,890.84, up $186,587.82 or 31.88%.
The Nobleboro School Committee reviewed the budget with the Nobleboro Board of Selectmen and Nobleboro Budget Committee during a meeting at the town office Thursday, Jan. 23.
Angela White, chair of the school committee, said the cost of special education is trending upward in area schools.
“Is there any way to pare it down a little bit?” budget committee member Peter Lawrence said.
White said the school has to provide or cover services for special education students, as identified in their individualized education programs.
AOS 93 Superintendent Craig Jurgensen agreed and said a lot of the costs in the budget are set by the needs of the student body.30There are state and federal regulations we need to follow,” Jurgensen said.
Joshua Hatch, a member of the school committee, said that until the state takes on more of the burden of education costs, small communities like Nobleboro will continue to be impacted.
“Hopefully it is something the state addresses,” Hatch said.
Within the special education category, expenses for the Compass and Pathways programs are going up.
Compass is a behavioral support program at Bristol Consolidated School and Pathways is a life skills program at Jefferson Village School. Four of the AOS 93 towns share the costs for the programs and can send students to them.
According to Sue Fossett, the district’s director of special services, despite the increases for these programs, in-district programs save the town money in comparison to the cost of sending a student outside the district.
Nobleboro will contribute $117,577.81 to Compass, up $43,344.63 or 58.18%.
“Part of the cost increase is a new teacher. Last year, a new teacher left the position and a veteran teacher was willing to do work running the program, but last year’s budget reflects the costs of a first-year teacher, not an experienced one,” Fossett said.
Nobleboro will contribute $69,836.64 to Pathways, an increase of $13,784.59 or 24.59%.
Nobleboro Central School is “a heavy user” of Compass and Pathways, White said.
The cost of the Compass and Pathways programs is split between four AOS 93 towns: Bristol, Jefferson, Nobleboro, and South Bristol.
Fossett said Nobleboro has about four to five students in the Compass program and three to five students in the Pathways program.
“We are almost at capacity in both programs, with each having 10-12 students,” Fossett said.
Another increase in special education is in the line for special placement secondary private tuition, which totals $184,000, an increase of $46,000 or 33.33%.
Nobleboro’s share of a new position of special education coordinator at the AOS 93 central office also contributes to the overall rise. AOS 93 voters approved the district’s budget, including the new position, in December.
Spear asked if there is a way to control rising special education costs.
Jurgensen said the school and the district are making a concerted effort to do so.
According to White, a guidance counselor position at Nobleboro Central School is going down from four to three days per week, while a new social worker position will be two days per week.
The guidance counselor and social worker fall under other budget categories, but affect special education.
NCS Principal Martin Mackey said the addition of a social worker to work with the guidance counselor is an effort to address the needs of students.
“They’ll work together for a more inclusive approach,” Mackey said.
“The hope is the social worker can help to keep a couple kids in the mainstream, and the guidance counselor and social worker, working together, can help,” Hatch said.
Dale Wright, chair of the budget committee, said that although the budget is up, the school committee did its due diligence.
“It is a bitter pill to swallow, but we are mandated to pay these costs and we have to explain that to taxpayers,” Wright said.
The special education category was not the only one to see an increase.
The regular instruction category totals $2,007,001.37, an increase of $161,029.64 or 8.72%.
The portion for teachers’ salaries totals $703,863.25, an increase of $54,084.51 or 8.32%.
The amount includes step increases, per the teachers’ contract, according to Rick Kusturin, assistant superintendent for business. “On top of that, you are entering a negotiation year,” Kusturin said.
Mackey said a day of music instruction has been added in the regular instruction portion of the budget.
Mackey said NCS currently has 148 students, down from 151 last year, but the number has floated around 150 throughout the school year.
Nobleboro currently has 67 high school students, four more than last year, according to Hatch.
Nobleboro pays tuition for these students to attend high schools, such as Lincoln Academy, since AOS 93 does not have its own public high school. Secondary private tuition totals $808,818, an increase of $58,900 or 7.85%.
Elsewhere in the budget, the transportation and buses category totals $294,683.18, an increase of $43,620.08 or 17.37%.