Schools may cut it close but don’t expect to go over budget

The Ridgefield public schools have spent the bulk of their $95 million school budget for the 2018-19 school year, but say they’re still expecting to end the year without the need for a special appropriation from the Board of Finance.

“Considering all known factors, we are continuing to project that the Board of Education will finish the budget year with no over-expenditure,” said school Business Manager Dawn Norton in the schools’ April 30 financial report.

She said the schools are expecting to spend all of the $95 million budget by the end of the year.

The district typically returns a small percentage of its budget to the town at the end of the school year.

According to Norton’s April 30 report, schools have spent 98.5 percent of their $95 million school budget. The main areas of concern are costs for special education, legal fees, and health insurance.

In special education, Ridgefield has received $1,172,930 back from the state’s special education grant, which reimburses districts for the cost of educating students with particularly high needs. The money is typically received in two payments, one at the beginning of the calendar year, and the other later in the spring. “We do hope to receive another $300,000 — we would have liked to have received it by now, it should have been here by the end of May, but the state has not released it yet,” Norton said.

The schools budgeted to receive only $200,000 in the second payment from the state, so the expected payout “would help tremendously,” said board member Fran Walton.

Legal costs could affect the budget if the schools have to pay out settlements covering the cost of sending special education students to out-of-district schools, or have to enter into due process claims, the report said.

The district has more health insurance claims this year than during the same time last year, Norton said in her report.

Some salary expenses are also running higher than expected, but overall the salary account is expected to end the year on budget due to savings from delays in filling some positions that were budgeted for a full year.

The district hired seven paraeducators that hadn’t been called for in the original budget, adding to costs. And funds spent for both certified and non-certified substitutes are both projected to run over budget by the end of the school year, according to Norton.

“That being said … certified salaries we are under budget at this point,” she said, “and most of that is because there’s a lot of positions that were hired later in the year that were budgeted for the full year.”