Special ed board faces major shortfall
The Marathon County Children with Disabilities Education Board (MCCDEB) added 20 new staff over the past four years, but, believing it was getting increased federal funding, didn’t think it needed to bill the six rural school districts in its consortium more for these added services.
Now the board knows differently.
County special education director Dr. Kelly Kapitz said Monday that a January audit found the board budgeted $240,000 more in federal aid than it would receive in the 2017-18 school year and, repeating this error, another $243,000 in overstated aid for the 2018-19 school year.
Kapitz said the MCCDEB has drawn down its fund balance from $2.6 to $2.1 million to make up for the double error, and, this year, if consortium schools don’t come up with added funding, the board will take its fund balance down as much as another $700,000.
This will leave the county special education program with a remaining $1.4 million fund balance, which is what Kapitz said is the “absolute minimum” the program needs to stay solvent and pay its regular bills.
Looking to the 2020-21 school year, Kapitz said the special education program will need another $600,000 to $700,000 from consortium schools to balance its budget. That breaks down to receiving another $100,000 to $117,000 from each school.
Schools within the special education consortium are Abbotsford, Spencer, Athens, Edgar, Marathon and Rosholt. The program runs a $7 million annual program with a total staff of around 140 people.
Kapitz said she has cut staff professional development in half and ordered cuts in curriculum work and materials to save money. She won’t, however, cut services to special education students.
“The students will get the services which they are promised,” she said.
Kapitz said the MCCDEB and consortium school administrators, who meet monthly to discuss special education, continue to support hiring the 20 new teachers and paraprofessionals to meet the needs of local students.
“There is a lot of need out there,” she said. “We have a lot of students with pretty unique needs.”
Kapitz said federal rules which mandate special education “maintenance of effort” complicate budget cuts. Certain cuts, however, are allowed.
The director said the budget error is “no small thing” and that it has cost her many sleepless nights. She praised local superintendents for being “amazingly magnanimous” given the circumstances.
Kapitz said one administrator, Jeff Mastin, Athens Public School, has indicated he will investigate possibly finding a different special education provider.
The director took personal blame for what she said was “a clerical error” that overstated federal revenues.
“I am responsible for the financial situation,” she said.
Kapitz said she continues to work with local superintendents to find a way for cash-strapped consortium schools to pay sharply higher special education costs.
“All that is being discussed,” she said.