The Framingham School Committee projects a $34.4 million cost for the Special Education (SPED) programs in the current school year and that price tag is estimated to be about $43 million by 2018 and $55 million by 2023.
Framingham's Finance Committee knowing that the escalating cost of the SPED programs increasingly puts pressure on the annual town budget asked the Framingham Public Schools to prepare a report for the Oct. 16 Special Town Meeting that projects the cost of SPED programs for the next decade.
The Finance Committee also requested the School Committee prepare a plan with Framingham’s state legislators to increase state funding for special education.
“It is a structural deficit in the operating budget,” said Dr. Edward Gotgart, director of business administration for the Framingham Public Schools at Monday night's School Committee meeting. “SPED is taking a larger portion of dollars in the operating budget.”
From the point of view of Gotgart and Director of Special Education Betsey McKeon, the way to staunch the ever increasing flow of SPED spending would be to increase the schools’ operating budget at the same rate as the SPED spending increase and/or pressure the state to increase its funding of mandated SPED programs thus increasing revenue coming to the schools.
When Gotgart ran the numbers out for the next decade he discovered that at the current rates of increased SPED spending and operating budget revenue, SPED would take the school’s entire operating budget by 2013.
“There is no doubt that we will face challenges with SPED,” said Framingham Superintendent of Schools Stacy Scott. “We will continue to look at ways to increase the influx of funds to the schools.”
According to Gotgart’s figures, the district will spend $34.4 million on SPED programs and support in the current school year.
Five years out, if everything remains the same, SPED spending will be $43.4 million and in 2023 that figure goes to $54.9 million.
By comparison, the school system’s operating budget this year is $98.8 million.
In five years, the operating budget is projected to be $110.7 million and at the end of the 10-year study period $124.1 million.
Gotgart’s figures show an operating budget average increase of 2.3 percent annually while the SPED increase averages 4.8 percent.
In its Town Meeting resolution, the Finance Committee was quick to state, “The FinCom is not suggesting any decrease in SPED programs or funding. Almost all of these costs are mandated by the state or the federal government and we have little control over them. Moreover, we recognize the importance of these programs in providing much needed services to our students.”
The resolution further stated that Framingham currently has 17 special education out-of-district students that cost the Framingham Public Schools district more than $100,000 each, with one student at a $300,000 a year cost.
Editor's note: Hypothetically, an example of an out-of-district placement could be a student attending the Perkins School for the Blind, due to a severe disability. Framingham Public Schools would be required to not only pay the tuition but also the transportation to and from school. This is just an example.