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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.

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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