I am writing as the director of special education and student support services for the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) to refute statements made in The Valley Reporter on March 8, 2018, by Kristen Rodgers’ in her opinion piece titled “The whole truth and nothing but the truth.” She wrote, “The truth is Moretown had a $90,000 accounting error due to a time study discrepancy at the behest of the director of special education, driving up Moretown’s cost per pupil artificially because of her mistake at the district level.” This is not the case. There was no actual discrepancy. I have no idea where she received this misinformation, but it is certainly not factual. There was not a $90K accounting error.
On November 3, 2016, at a regular monthly board meeting at Moretown Elementary School (MES), I presented time schedule information for FY15-16. I have held this position for over 15 years and I routinely report this type of information annually to each board. I reported that in FY16 Moretown had higher projected special education costs compared to the actual expenses. This was due to a significant midyear shift in student special education service needs that resulted in fewer services. The difference resulted in a budget deficit. This was not the result of poor planning or poor accounting. In fact, Moretown Elementary School special education costs have steadily declined since 2011.
Vermont is a state that implements a reimbursement system for special education funding. Therefore, some special education expenses are eligible for reimbursement and the Agency of Education advances our school district money based on our “predicted estimates” which we are required to submit to the AOE as a service plan budget every October. These predictions are based upon our best knowledge of who the students will be in attendance at the school and what the service needs will be a year in advance. The service plan is developed by school staff and the principal and is submitted early in the school year. This is so that we can pay our special education staff and provide services. Then we are required to submit our actual expenditure reports to the AOE quarterly. The time schedules are required in order to account for the time that our special education staff spent on allowable special education expenses. It is a “true up” or reconciliation process.
Once the actual schedules are submitted each year, all schools in the state routinely reconcile these estimates with actual expenditures. All schools in Vermont must do this task each year due to the nature of a reimbursement formula where roughly 57 percent of the costs are reimbursed.
There was no error in accounting. It is the nature of the reimbursement system for special education funding. Student populations can vary widely within a year’s time, and this was an unusual year at MES. Incidentally, the Legislature is currently working on a bill (H.897 version 17.1) to change special education funding from a reimbursement system to a census-based block grant system.
As noted above, the special education reimbursement revenue fell short of projections in FY2016 and Moretown ended FY2016 with a general fund deficit of $68,459. In a sense, the Moretown taxpayers were held harmless from this deficit and the Moretown homestead tax rate and education spending per equalized pupil was never affected because the HUUSD absorbed 100 percent of Moretown’s FY2016 deficit by offsetting it with the positive fund balance of other member school districts in the FY2018 HUUSD budget.
If you have further questions about special education funding, please contact me at the HUUSD offices at 583-7946.
Dawson is the director of student services at HUUSD.