EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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June 11, 2013

City schools come up $750K short

Special education costs trigger budget crunch

HAVERHILL — An unexpected influx of students with severe learning disabilities — including one child the School Department has spent approximately $350,000 on since January — has the Haverhill district facing a large budget shortfall with only three weeks left in the fiscal year.

Superintendent James Scully said 14 special educations students have moved to Haverhill since the school year began in September — the largest number of mid-year move-ins that anyone can remember, he said. The cost of providing school services for the 14 students has been about $750,000 so far — money that was not budgeted because the students moved here during the school year, the superintendent said.

Under state law, public school districts must provide whatever staff and other resources are required to educate students with learning and physical disabilities.

“This is a problem right now for districts all around us,” Scully said, noting that Massachusetts’ special education laws are among the most liberal in the country in what they require school districts to pay for.

“I know professionals and corporate people from the south who moved here just for access to special educations services,” the superintendent said.

Scully said the $350,000 it has cost this year to educate the most expensive mid-year special education student was actually negotiated “way down” by city lawyers. Another student who moved here a few months ago has already cost the district $141,000, he said.

The superintendent briefed the School Committee on the budget shortfall at last week’s School Committee meeting. At that meeting, he said he could not pinpoint the deficit because administrators are still trying to determine how much money is going to be left in other accounts on June 30 — the last day in the fiscal year — to put toward the shortfall.

“We aren’t sure how this is going to all settle out yet,” Scully said. “We hope to be able to transfer overages in other line items to cover some of the shortfall. We are also hoping for more state or federal aid, but we don’t expect to be able to cover all of it (the deficit).”

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