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Sunday, March 29 News

Greenwich school board to review $1.2M appropriation for special ed

GREENWICH — The Board of Education will meet virtually Thursday night to vote on whether to approve an appropriation that would pay for overages in the special education budget.

The Greenwich school board will also discuss forming a pilot Special Education Advisory Committee, a group of teachers, parents and administrators that advises the school district.

The meeting is virtual so that residents can continue to follow Gov. Ned Lamont’s order to stay home and avoid large gatherings to prevent the community spread of the novel coronavirus.

About half of the board’s agenda items have been postponed for another month.

Residents can call in to the meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. Thursday, by dialing 646-558-8656 and entering the Meeting ID 295 268 187.

The board will vote on an interim appropriation of $1.2 million for budget overruns in special education. The overage was caused by an increase in the number of special education students transferred to specialized schools that better meet their needs.

The overages for the 2019-20 school year could be covered by an excess cost grant from the state, which will likely be released in May. The 2018-19 grant, for example, returned $1.2 million to the town.

“Given the unknowns, the Board of Education believes it is prudent to seek an interim appropriation for $1.2 million to ensure that we do not end the year with a negative balance,” Chief Operating Officer Sean O’Keefe wrote in the proposal. “Any remaining funds will be returned to the town.”

This overage is projected to continue into the 2020-21 school year. Based on a recent review of the current students returning for next year, the school district will be overbudget in out-of-district tuition and settlements by $1.5 million, he said.

The BOE had made progress in reducing the exposure in the operating budget from $1.2 million to $775,000, but the exposure increased by $320,000 because more students were identified as needing out-of-district placements, he said.

The interim appropriation also includes about $80,000 to cover continued costs to rent the scaffolding that shores up the bleachers at Greenwich High School’s Cardinal Stadium, as well as overtime for custodians who deep-cleaned the schools due to the coronavirus.

The Greenwich Athletic Foundation had given money that covered installation, removal and monthly rental of $6,800 through the end of the fall season.

Work on the bleachers, scheduled for December 2019, was delayed because the Board of Estimate and Taxation put a condition on the funding on a review of using the space under the bleachers. After that work was done, the BOE voted on a new design in January 2020.

As for the coronavirus, the school district’s business office is tracking expenses related to mitigation and distance learning. Although it is pursuing reimbursement where possible, at this stage, the office does not believe funding is available.

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The district also recommends that the board approve a motion to participate in a state Department of Education-approved Special Education Advisory Committee. The pilot group would be comprised of parents, teachers and administrators.

Other states have SEACs built into their legislation, a law that has yet to, but could, come down the pipeline in Connecticut. As of now, the state department has supported a few pilot SEACs in the state, including in Norwalk, Superintendent Toni Jones said in a BOE retreat earlier in March.

“Connecticut is very proactive having these available so that when it comes time and legislation does say we have to do this, we have good examples of what we have to do,” she said at the time.

The council provides guidance to and advises the BOE, and members of the board are welcome to attend meetings, but they are not voting members.

In Norwalk, “it was really a stage for families and the school district to work together cooperatively for the end goal of children having the best experience they can,” Jones said during the meeting.

Any questions regarding access to the meeting should be sent via email to BOE Clerk Michael Antonaccio at michael_antonaccio@greenwich.k12.ct.us. Details on accessing the meeting can also be found at GreenwichSchools.org/VirtualMeetings.

jo.kroeker@hearstmediact.com

Jo Kroeker|Reporter

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