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Special Education Costs Increase As Grants Disappear

Stoneham School Committee reviews FY13 budget draft.

The Stoneham School Committee braved the elements Thursday night to review the fiscal 2011 (FY11) and fiscal 2012 (FY12) budget in comparison to the projected fiscal 2013 (FY13) budget.

Superintendent Les Olson called the informal budget meeting, “just a chance to have a look and begin to create a framework […] Preliminary needs seem to call for a four-hundred and fifty to sixty thousand dollar reduction to the FY13 budget.”

As per the FY13 budget draft, the biggest changes come to supplying more money to staff special education and English language learners departments and refill necessary supplies. These gains come at the expense of full-time kindergarten and district-wide support like unemployment benefits.

Special Ed Teachers Increase Almost Across the Board

's FY13 proposed budget for special education teachers is proposed to increase $122,759 (27.4 percent) from FY12.

special education teaching expenses would increase $86,226 (13.8 percent), while the fine arts (-17.2 percent), physical education (-7.9 percent) and guidance (-9.3 percent) budgets would be reduced.

At the elementary level, teachers salaries for special education increase $202,379 (33.7 percent) at the , $28,290 (5.8 percent) at , and $7,847 (one percent) at . With a special education student moving out of town, there would be a $29,931 (-5.3 percent) reduction at the .

The increases to special education and English language learning teachers can be attributed to Stoneham's need to fill state quotas for these departments.

English Language Learners and Supplies Also Get Financial Bump

English language learning tutors used across all Stoneham schools, although the highest need is at the elementary level, would get a $38,326 (84.1 percent) bump which equates to one full-time tutor or several part-time instructors.

Supply costs are also increasing across the board. At the elementary level, supply funding would increase $16,750 (82.1 percent) at Central, $14,325 (132.6 percent) at Colonial, $15,925 (102.1 percent) at Robin Hood and up $16,750 (119.6 percent) at South School.

High School science and health text also received an increase of $11,000 (220 percent). The same goes for social studies texts, increasing $15,000 (197.4 percent) from FY12.

Meanwhile, physical education supplies may get an extra $10,000 (500 percent) more from last year. These increases seem to come from the need to replace out-of-date texts and aging equipment.

Where Have All the Grants Gone?

One of the largest hits to FY13's proposed budget are the losses of several state and federal grants that helped fund Stoneham in FY12. The total loss of grant-funded money is $259,862, a 6.7 percent decrease from last year's budget.

The reason behind the loss of grant money doesn't fall on Stoneham, but rather the poor state and federal economy that isn't supplying as many grants as in previous years.

Full-Time Kindergarten 

The idea of full-time kindergarten in Stoneham was one of the key priorities for the School Committee coming into this year. However, the idea of an $180,000 expenditure to make this a reality forced the School Committee to abandon the idea.

Olson said, “It seems inevitable we will withdraw the all-day kindergarten proposal which I find sad both financially and academically.”

Unemployment Benefits May Drop

District-wide unemployment benefits were tabbed at $48,000 (-94.1 percent) loss in the FY13 budget draft, leaving just $3,000 for unemployment benefits. This follows the trend of losing 49 percent for district-wide service expenses overall.

However, Olson added, “We may have to cut a teaching position or two after a full examination which would mean we would need to add $30,000 more into our unemployment budget, but, we will see.”

The Big Picture

What does this all mean for Stoneham schools? Although this is just a tentative budget and is likely to evolve over time, like many institutions facing today's economic climate, Stoneham public schools are taking a hit where so many others have as well: in support expenses like unemployment and not being able to gather as many state and federal grants as there were a year previous.

The proposed budget is increasing from $23,074,917 in FY12 to $24,071,092 in FY13, a 4.3 percent increase. Salaries increase from $18,548,266 to $19,457,207, a 4.9 percent increase. Total expenses also rise from $4,526,651 to $4,613,885, a 1.9 percent increase.

Olson closed the budget meeting by stating, “At our next meeting, we will finalize classroom sizes which will help determine our budgetary concerns moving forward.”

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