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Hearing set to transfer money to cover budget deficit in Keene School District

By Kaitlin Mulhere, The Keene Sentinel, N.H.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

May 09--The Keene School District's special education department will close out the year more than half a million dollars in the red.

But that's better than the worst-case scenario administrators forecast last fall, when they said the department could overspend its budget by as much as $800,000, mainly due to unexpected student placements outside the Keene district.

The district has scheduled a public hearing on the issue at the beginning of its meeting Tuesday, which is required when using unspent revenue from the current budget to cover a spending deficit.

The district is anticipating a surplus of nearly $1.6 million on the revenue side of the 2013-14 budget, while the special education instruction budget line so far has been overspent by $555,142.

That figure could still shift before the end of the year, though, as there are still 52 days left until the district closes out its fiscal year June 30.

Business Administrator John R. Harper said at a finance committee meeting Tuesday he expects the district will need to use between $200,000 and $300,000 of the revenue surplus to cover expenses.

Harper said it's the first time in more than 20 years that he can remember needing to hold a public hearing to transfer money to cover expenses, and that the district is lucky to have the revenue available.

Of the unexpected revenue, $250,000 comes from tuition payments from districts that send their students to Keene. But most of it comes from a $1.1 million refund the district received in the fall from the Local Government Center for overpayments for health and dental insurance in 2010 and 2011. About $300,000 of that $1.1 million was returned to employees who paid for the insurance.

If there wasn't money from the revenue side of the budget, the district would have needed to put an article on the warrant in March to raise additional tax money to cover the deficit, Harper said. That's never been done in Keene as far as Harper can remember.

The special education costs skyrocketed in the fall after the district needed to send additional students to out-of-district placements. Students are sent to schools outside the district when they need more extensive or specialized services than the district can provide. The district is partially reimbursed by the state for the most expensive cases, those that are 3.5 times the state average cost per pupil.

The placements the Keene district is using range in tuition from $13,222 to $189,749 per student, according to Special Education Director Catherine Woods.

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Out-of-district costs can be difficult to predict because placements vary from year to year. After developing the 2013-14 budget in fall 2012, there were 12 additional placements during the 2012-13 school year and three during this school year.

Woods said based on today's student population and the expectation that some students who are out of district this year will probably return next year, she thinks next year's special education budget, which was put together last fall, is in good shape.

"But it's early May, and next year is next year," she said at the meeting Tuesday.

In previous years, special education has been a source of surplus for the district, Harper said. But as budgets have grown tighter in recent years, there has been little money left in the budgets as a contingency for unexpected costs.

As a result, board members at Tuesday's meeting briefly discussed the advantages of establishing a special education fund, much like a capital reserve fund for building repairs, in which the district could set aside money to cover unexpected special education costs in the future.

The Keene Board of Education will meet Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in the large group instructional area at Keene High School. Kaitlin Mulhere can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1439, or kmulhere@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @KMulhereKS.

Kaitlin Mulhere can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1439?, or kmulhere@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @KMulhereKS.

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(c)2014 The Keene Sentinel (Keene, N.H.)

Visit The Keene Sentinel (Keene, N.H.) at www.sentinelsource.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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