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Schools Face $705k Deficit after Special Ed. Enrollment Spikes

Joe Balducci, finance chief for Cranston Public Schools told the School Committee this is a "worst case scenario."

Unanticipated special education enrollments has the Cranston School Committee looking at a $705,000 budget shortfall early in the fiscal year.

School finance head Joe Balducci told the School Committee at a work session Wednesday night that the shortfall is in the special education tuitions line item in the operating budget.

The district has enrolled 13 students into IEPs with outside placements since the start of the school year, exceeding forecasts. These placements are unpredictable and can swing wildly from year to year and even month to month, school officials said. At the start of the school year last year, the district was looking at a surplus of more than $200,000, for example.

Balducci said the situation represents a "worst case scenario," complicated by the difficult nature of budgeting for special education.

If a student is in a outside placement at the start of the school year, the district immediately encumbers an $80,000 bill and pays it off for the rest of the school year even if the student moves out of the district or leaves the placement and comes back to a Cranston school. There might be some way to recoup some money, but that won't happen until the springtime, Balducci said.

The school district registered eight new special education placements last week alone, said Cheryl Coogan, executive director of pupil personnel services.

The city has about $270,000 in a reserve account for special education contingency funding that the school district could use to offset the deficit.

The fund was slashed from $650,000 to about $150,000 in the budget Mayor Allan W. Fung submitted to the City Council earlier this year. after shaving money from various line items and boosting expected income estimates from delinquent taxes and other revenue sources.

The superintendent and School Committee members during the budget process warned of potential school deficits next year if there are unexpected special education enrollments mid-year. 

Now that it appears to be coming true, School Committee Member Stephanie Culhane said she recalls receiving assurances from city officials that they'd help out if there was a spike in special education enrollments. She said city Finance Director Robert Strom said "don't worry, we'll cover it" during the Finance Committee's budget hearings in the spring and would find the meeting minutes if she had to.

School Committee Chairwoman Andrea Iannazzi asked Balducci to submit a detailed memo to Strom and the mayor detailing the budget situation. Balducci said he would conference with Strom and the mayor's office about the issue.

John October 12, 2012 at 05:09 PM
Limit the amount spent per student, and allow parents to prioritize and select from a menu-like list of options that falls within that budget. A free and appropriate education does not mean unlimited spending, especially when that infringes on the services that can be provided to all other children. Set a reasonable budget, and provide the most appropriate services you can WITHIN THAT LIMIT. It is fair and appropriate to limit services to what we can reasonably afford.
Sean P Gately October 12, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Kudo's to Frank Lombardi as the "Proven Leader" of the SC. More incompetence and political opportunism gone bad. It was just over a month ago he was crowing about a "surplus and sound fiscal budgeting capabilities." Hitting the ground running or running us into the ground? Running deficits for fifth year in a row. The amounts are approaching $12 Million in deficits over his tenure. The School Committee should be ashamed of themselves for saying there is a surplus for pure political gain a month ago. This reminds me of the David Cicilline school of economics. "We are proud that we were fiscally conservative this year, we held the line on expenses and ended the year with a surplus. We are going to use this surplus toward the debt. It is one step toward providing a sound financial future for our students and our taxpayers.” Lombardi said. http://www.cranstononline.com/stories/Schools-end-year-with-surplus,73956?search_filter=surplus+&town_id=3&sub_type=stories If Frank can't get a budget of a $125 Million dollars right how can we expect him to manage a $7 Billion one at the state level.
nicole fine October 12, 2012 at 11:17 PM
Are these expenses due to our students having to be placed out of district? If yes, does Medicaid/care cover any of the expense? Why, are they being placed out of district? If, they are new students coming into our schools with IEP's in place, do we reevaluate the students to see if the IEP is in fact needed? Also, where are the dollars from that student's previous district, shouldn't they be following them?
Joe The Plumber October 13, 2012 at 05:23 AM
Wait a &@$!?#% minute! In August we read a headline here "Schools End Fiscal Year with $130,000 Surplus" Now just two months later we have a $750,000 deficit?????? Okay folks this is outrageous. Someone should get their butts kicked out of town on this one!
Chris12 October 13, 2012 at 10:58 AM
School Committees and school departments rarely work within their budget. This is an accepted practice by the taxpayers. Many laughed at Steve Laffey because he was so adamant about making the School Dept and SC work within their budgets. Sad to say we ran him out of town...
Steven r October 13, 2012 at 11:25 AM
That will never happen, children are always first and the taxpayers get the shaft. And teachers get raises, every year(except for Central Falls).
Steven r October 13, 2012 at 11:27 AM
If the incumbents keep getting reelected, why would they care about anybody?
Steven r October 13, 2012 at 11:30 AM
Frank Lombardi fought for that silly prayer banner and it cost the city of Cranston $150,000
Joe The Plumber October 13, 2012 at 12:27 PM
And look where that got us.
Joe Richer October 14, 2012 at 06:02 PM
$80K per year per student! That's more than enough money for 1.5 teachers for each student. There's got to be something that can be done there! I'd like to see the spread sheets accounting for that kind of expenditure for a student.
Sean P Gately October 15, 2012 at 10:34 PM
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: CRANSTON SCHOOL'S REPORTED BUDGET SURPLUS IS SMOKE AND MIRRORS. SENATE CANDIDATE GATELY DEMANDS THAT FRANK LOMBARDI IMMEDIATELY TRANSFER BUDGET OVERSIGHT TO THE CITY FINANCE DEPARTMENT http://conta.cc/TsmanU
Steven r October 15, 2012 at 11:10 PM
Nothing will change. The incumbents(Frank) will keep getting reelected and taxes will go up, next year. It is not an election year, after all.
Cranston October 16, 2012 at 12:30 AM
The problem is obvious although tough to fix. Look at any government leader who allows governments to fail and it's usually an Italian last name....Iannazzi, Lombardi, Ciccilline, Trafficante, etc. We need to rid ourselves of this 70's mafia type goof balls and start putting people in office who don't know anyone. I think the school committe should be privitized along with buses so that the only thing that matters is the bottom line. I lived here up until 5 years ago cause the city was obvious dangerous and a terrible place to live and fiscally mismanaged....cry all you want. We need people like Gately to show what he can do and if he doesn...we move on.
TruthHonorValor October 16, 2012 at 01:49 AM
Did any of you actually READ the article? The real problem is twofold. The first is that there is no way to predict the quantity of Special Education students and the money needed to provide education for them. The second is that the MAYOR slashed the reserve for these special ed students, and caused a bigger problem than what we should have had. Had the MAYOR not cut the funding, then there would be no issue. Now we all know that Mr. Gatey lies. We have seen it before. He cannot help it. That is who he is. But to blame Frank Lombardi for the fact that there is a higher need for special ed. students this year is absolutely crazy! For immediate press release: CRANSTON SCHOOL'S REPORTED BUDGET SURPLUS WAS REAL, BUT THEY CANNOT PREDEICT THE FUTURE. SENATE CANDIDATE GATELY IS SMOKE AND MIRRORS AND HE TWISTS THE TRUTH. I DEMAND THAT MR. GATELY IMMEDIATELY TRANFER BLAME TO THE MAYOR, HIS PUPPETMASTER, WHO SLASHED THE SPECIAL EDUCATION CONTIMGENCY FUNDING FROM $650,000 to $150,000. Who, Mr. Gately, acted irresponsibly? How about the guy who figured that the special ed budget wasn't needed last year so it was slashed. The school committee warned that this could happen, but the MAYOR wouldn't listen. And you apparently agree with him! When are you ever going to tell the WHOLE TRUTH, Mr. Gately, instead of inciting unrest with your pathetic half-truths? You are caught in your political lies AGAIN! Shame on you. Are you really that desperate?
Janice Ruggieri October 16, 2012 at 11:35 AM
Nicole, these are expenses from students with out of district placements who came into our district in Sept. They will be re-evaluated..usually within 45 days of coming into the district, we will be reimbursed by Medicaid when appropriate,but we have no way of knowing what that dollar amount will be.
Cranston Voter October 16, 2012 at 12:06 PM
Cranston Voter @CranstDONE I am an Independent Italian American voter. I find your comments disparaging, disrespectful, hurtful, and totally uncalled for. If you want to criticize any candidate holding any political office on his or her record,certainly is your choice to do so, but to bring a persons nationality into it, is over the top. Personally speaking, i'm glad you're otta here. It's people like you who help denigrate and splinter the community as opposed to working together and contributing to make Cranston a better place to live. With friends/supporters like you Gately doesn't need any enemies! Just in case you didn't know, the Italian American Nationality is very vibrant in this community (Knightsville, Thornton/Atwood ave, and Western Cranston) to name a few. Although the comments did not come out of Gately's mouth, I for one will be looking to see what if anything he will say about your posting. ARRIVEDERCI
Joe Richer October 16, 2012 at 12:06 PM
I was under the impression that the Major and City Council could not make changes to the school department budget? Is that not correct?
Steven r October 16, 2012 at 12:19 PM
Why not bill the parents of these kids, since they cost more? Is it fair to people with no kids to keep paying for other people's kids?
Sean P Gately October 16, 2012 at 02:22 PM
As someone who grew up in Garden City with the Capuano & Simone families and who happens to have an Italian Godmother Sharon Simone. Most of my family have Italian God parents, Uncle Anthony, Auntie Louise and Cappy. I am also a member of St. Mary's feast society. I have the utmost respect for the Italian community and what they mean to Cranston.
TruthHonorValor October 16, 2012 at 02:52 PM
To Cranston Voter and Sean Gately: Well said. The Italian culture and heritage enhance and strengthen us as a city, state, and nation, and we can ill-afford to condemn any ethnic community. Our strengths lie in our diversity and the best attributes that our cultures have to offer. Remember that the finest brass and steel is forged not from one metal, but from many. CransDONE, please step out of the copper or iron age.
TruthHonorValor October 16, 2012 at 03:01 PM
I believe that you are correct. However, the schools cannot generate their own revenue, and therefore must function within the bugetary boundaries granted to them from the city and as mandated by state and federal laws. If the Mayor wants to starve the schools, he can.
Joe Richer October 17, 2012 at 12:35 AM
You stated the "mayor slashed the rserve for these special ed students". Now you are saying that you agree with me that the mayor could not do that. The mayor CANNOT starve the schools without the connivance of the council and even then the Caroulo act would compel the state to act. You can try to blame the mayor all you want - this is simply not his doing. The school department runs their budget and must be accountable for it.

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