The Champlain Valley School District (CVSD) Board meeting on November 19 focused on a discussion of special education budgeting and spending estimates for 2021. Director of Student Support Services Meghan Roy and Chief Operating Officer Jeanne Jensen led the discussion on the factors involved in making budgeting decisions.

Special education budget forecasting is conducted in a changing environment that has a number of moving targets. They include the number of students entering the school system with needs, the uncertainty of increasing health care costs for staff, the need for programs that will provide services on site, and the continuing community health and social service issues that impact the school system. These budget projections are accordingly made in an atmosphere of uncertainty.

One of the elements of budget forecasting is the effort by the district to provide more oversight and planning for special education services. Looking at the entire special education system across schools will increase the capacity of the school district to provide equitable on-site services for students. The provision of services on site will result in significant cost saving but does require the addition of highly trained personnel. The ATLAS program (Accomplished Teaching, Learning and Schools) put out by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards was cited as an example of a program that has the potential for saving significant costs and enhancing the inclusion of students in their home schools.

The current projections indicate a shortfall of $250,000 in the special education budget for FY 2021. This reflects an expected increase in personnel health care costs of 13 percent and the enrollment of more students with intensive needs. The district is in the second round of budget discussion in conversations with building special education directors, and there will be a third round in December. If savings cannot be found in the special education budget, discussions will focus on where savings might be found in the general education budget.

Superintendent Elaine Pinckney made the point that the special education system is not a separate system but is closely aligned with regular education. Students in special education go in and out of regular classrooms and have access to the regular curriculum, and students not in the special education system receive a number of services through the building support systems aligned with special education. The goal of the board and the district is to ensure that there is equitable provision of services across all schools for all students.

The budgeting process will be simplified next year when a new block grant funding system will be implemented through Act 173.