Special ed finances will wait until 2020
Superintendents for the six school districts which make up Marathon County’s rural special education consortium don’t want to deal with a $700,000 budget funding shortfall until January or February of next year, Dr. Kelly Kapitz, special education director, told the Marathon County Children with Disabilities Education Board on Thursday. The director said she outlined three options the six schools could take to deal with this year’s deficit, but the superintendents decided not to take action.
The options, she said, were to have the special education board make up the full deficit by further drawing down its fund balance, have the schools make up that deficit or a combination of these choices.
Kapitz said it was difficult for school districts, which just approved budgets, to help out the special education program with its shortfall.
“They are not ready to commit,” she said.
Kapitz said the special education program had a $2.6 million fund balance in 2017 but, as a result of back-to-back budgeting errors, the balance has been spent down to $2.1 million. She said the special education program must, at minimum, operate with a $1.4 million fund balance.
Kapitz did say, however, that the superintendents all supported rebuilding the special education fund balance over time.
“I felt a lot of support,” she said.
Kapitz said she her program has cut $71,000 from its budget to respond to the budget crisis and, possibly, going forward, could cut another $50,000 to $70,000.
She said, however, that she could not see how she could make up even half of the budget shortfall with staff or supply cuts, especially at a time when special education enrollments are rapidly increasing.
She said last year the program served 437 students. This year, there are 498 students.
The statewide average for special education enrollments is 12 percent, Kapitz said. This year’s population is 14 percent of regular education enrollment The director said both Edgar and Marathon school districts have seen a significant increase in special education students.
Kapitz said she hoped the district could save some money with competitive bidding on health insurance costs. She said Security Health Plan, Aspirus Arise and WEA Trust would all put in bids on staff health insurance.
“I hope someone will come in and give us a really great bid,” she said.
Last year, Kapitz explained, health insurance premiums increased 12 percent. The consortium caps its contributions to employee health insurance.
Despite the budget troubles, Kapitz said she felt the special education program had a sustainable future.
“We are in a perfect storm, but I feel we can weather the situation.” She said. ”I am feeling very positive about our strategies.”