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Kearsarge Proposes New Special Ed Program

The Kearsarge Regional School District Annual School District Election will be held Tuesday, March 11 to act on the warning articles. Voters are instructed to report to voting places in their respective towns of Bradford, Springfield, Sutton, New London, Newbury, Warner and Wilmot to cast their vote by Australian ballot.

New London — School officials are proposing some alternative programs in a bid to contain special education costs, along with wage and salary increases, in the Kearsarge Regional School District budget.

For the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1, the proposed operating budget for the district is $38.9 million, up more than $1.6 million, or 4.4 percent, from the current school year.

Salary, wages and benefits comprise the biggest chunk of the increase, at $803,655. These increases were approved by voters last March as part of the collective bargaining agreements with teachers and paraeducators unions, said Kearsarge Regional School District Superintendent Jerome Frew.

Added to this is $99,000 for an “alternative program” teacher and a paraeducator for an “offsite behavior program.”

The district by law is financially responsible for providing a free and adequate education to special education students residing in the district that includes paying for the student to go outside the district if Kearsarge can’t accommodate the needs of the students, Frew said. Those costs can run anywhere from $60,000 to $180,000 or more per student, Frew said. Historically, the district has seen between nine to 25 out-of-district placements. It currently has 11.

But the district plans to create an alternative program for middle and high school students that rests somewhere in the middle.

“We’re trying to create some programming within the district that rests somewhere between kind of the regular routine and placing out, but not necessarily in the same building for high school or middle school students,” Frew said. “We’re just trying to find some way to contain these (placement) costs, and to transition kids who have either been out of district and are coming back into the district … in a more student friendly way or as a last ditch effort before we place them out.

“Putting it in the simplest terms, by investing $99,000 for this particular program, if we save one or two out of district placements, we saved the district some money and educated a kid closer to home in the community,” he said.

Frew said the program will likely see two to three students in the first year.

The proposed budget also includes $65,000 for a school resource officer; $42,500 to expand the world language program at Kearsarge Regional Middle School; $116,000 or a 3 percent wage increase for non-affiliated staff; $6,000 in stipends for a middle school athletic coordinator; and, $3,000 for a science, technology and math coordinator at Kearsarge Regional High School.

Additionally, complying with the requirements of the Affordable Care Act is adding $221,141 to the bottom line; transportation, maintenance and utility increases is adding $133,036 as a result of contractual agreements and fuel costs primarily; and, utilities, bonds, and property insurance are up approximately $8,000 as a result of estimates to fuel oil, according the district’s explanation of the warrant.

Frew said it’s not clear yet how the proposed budget increase will affect tax rates in the towns participating in the Kearsarge district.

“It’s different for every town and only guesswork at this point because it depends on assessments and valuations and for us being a seven district town, it varies in every community,” he said.

Voters will also be asked to raise and appropriate up to $25,000 for the special education expendable trust fund and up to $50,000 for the school buildings maintenance fund. Frew said the money only goes into these funds if there is a budget surplus at the end of the year.

The only contested election in the district is in Warner where Janice Loz and Joseph Mendola are running for a three-year seat on the School Board.