Special ed budget uncertain

As the Oak Harbor School District prepares its budget for the 2004-2005 school year, officials are having trouble figuring out the special education budget.

That’s because the school district doesn’t yet know how much money it’s going to have for the program next year.

The school district has been told to expect a 13.7 percent increase in special education funding from the federal government. However, that percentage is likely to decrease after the state sets aside a percentage of the increase for safety net funding for school districts that see increases in special education students.

The Oak Harbor district received approximately $731,000 from the federal government this year. Overall, it spends nearly $4 million administering its special education programs.

While the state is determining how much money the school district will receive, local officials still need to hammer out a budget, a process that some hope to complete by the end of the month.

Pam Ross, business director, said that the district is estimating a 10 percent increase in federal funding this year.

While the school district can expect some additional funding this year, the money it receives does not cover the cost of the program.

“The state just doesn’t fund fully and hasn’t done it in years,” Ross said.

The funding the school district receives is nearly $400,000 short of what it spends. To make up that difference, the district uses $220,000 in federal Impact Aid money and the remainder from the general fund.

Even though the school district doesn’t receive enough money to fund the programs, it is required to meet the needs of special education students as outlined under their individualized education plan.

“There’s a whole range of needs depending on a child and we have to look at each child individually and serve those needs,” said Laura Rice, special programs director for the Oak Harbor School District.

The school district serves 50 special education children under the age of two and 683 students from ages three to 21.

Ross said the school district once received state money based on each student’s disability but that changed several years ago.

The state now gives out a flat rate that is nearly double the Basic Education Allowance per student. This year the Oak Harbor district received $3,975 per student and $7,633 for every special education student.

Ross said that depending on student needs, this can go over that amount per year and the district is left picking up the remainder.

Rice pointed out that, while the school district is required by law to take care of special needs students, it remains an unfunded mandate from the federal government.

You can reach News-Times reporter Nathan Whalen at nwhalen@whidbeynews

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