Hartland Discusses Increase in Special Education Funds

  • Phil Bush, center, listens during Town Meeting at Damon Hall in Hartland yesterday. (Valley News - Libby March)
  • Marie Kirn raises her hand to speak during Town Meeting in Hartland. (Valley News - Libby March)
  • Michael Heaney speaks from the balcony to Town Meeting attendees. (Valley News - Libby March)

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. today at Damon Hall to cast ballots on town and school agenda items. Hartland’s Town Meeting also commences from the floor at 9 a.m. at the hall.

Hartland — A projected fiscal year 2014 budget increase of more than $700,000 had Hartland residents seeking answers at last night’s Hartland School District meeting.

“All of the years before have been relatively benign, but now there’s a huge increase,” said resident Juris Kaugerts.

Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union Business Manager Ed Connors said nearly two-thirds of the $736,264 fiscal year projected increase is related to a spike in special education costs.

Some of those services include increased transportation rates, wages and benefits for special education teachers and staff, and an increase in special education students in the schools.

“It’s almost a perfect storm,” Connors said.

Hartland Elementary School Principal Gary Wright said when developing the budget, more liberal figures were used to account for any other jumps in operating costs.

“We want to be more stable between the proposal and actual spending,” Wright said. “In one day we had a family move in with three intensive needs students,” he said, which was estimated to cost anywhere from $50,000 to $600,000 in special education spending.

Wright did explain the costs to be “mostly reimbursable. That’s why you don’t see that large impact on the tax rate like you would expect.”

The amount to be raised by taxes to support the projected $8.3 million school budget is $7.1 million, $300,000 more than the current tax-raised revenue plan.

Hartland taxpayers currently pay about $1.51 per $100 of property valuation. Compared to the projected school budget, the rate would rise to $1.54, which amounts to a tax bill of $3,850 on a home assessed at $250,000.

Officials said additional surges could be attributed to tuition increases for what it costs to send Hartland’s high school-aged students to outside schools.

Connors said due to low enrollment rates, the cost of tuition is rising. Tuition per student can range between “$12,000 to almost $20,000,” said David Baker, the WSSU superintendent.

“The fewer students, the less you have to divide into the total cost,” Connors said.

Residents also debated an article to transfer $211,369 of the fiscal year 2012 general fund surplus to establish a school district reserve fund to offset any future deficits.

Resident Rob Sangster was against the idea.

“I can appreciate the hard work that you have put in, but I find it awfully hard to swallow a $600,000 plus deficit, but then be asked to hold $211,000 in a reserve fund — I find that out of line,” Sangster said.

Hartland voters will decide the fate of that surplus transfer through Australian ballot voting today, along with transferring $200,000 from the school district general fund to the school district capital reserve fund to pay for the Hartland School water project.

Connors said the K-8 school replaced the pump system and storage tanks for around $222,000 which was finished last summer and was covered up front by a state agency. The article asks residents to approve the transfer to avoid paying nearly $65,000 in interest on a 20-year bond with the state, said School Board Chairwoman Bettina Read.

“If we have a large amount of money in a fund right now and we can pay off the debt, why not just pay off the debt,” resident Joe Silver said.

Resident Michael Weinberger disagreed.

“In both cases you’re asking today’s taxpayers to pay for a service they won’t receive this year,” he said. “Someone who lives here then moves has prepaid for this. I think that’s wrong.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@gmail.com.