The cuts that Mayor Scott Jackson made to the Board of Education's proposed 2012-13 budget is apparently fine with the Legislative Council, which approved the line item Tuesday during its continuing budget workshops.
The council had questions on a few revenue line items, but when it came to expenditures, it voted without discussion on the $80.3 million budget.
"We are very grateful for their doing so," said board chairman Michael D'Agostino. "We understand the council is under tremendous pressure."
D'Agostino and board member James Pascarella said they are optimistic they will be able to implement the budget -- which is $1.2 million lower than the board's request -- without having to lay off any staff.
"We are going to have to go back and make sure we can fit everything within the $80.3 million," D'Agostino said. "I'm confident we can and I'm optimistic that we will be able to do that without layoffs."
One change going into the next school year is the creation of a separate account into which the excess special education costs refunded by the state will go, Pascarella said. Traditionally that money went into the general fund and the Legislative Council did with it as it wished, with the Board of Education only rarely asking to use it.
But last year by the time the school board made that request, the council, of which Pascarella was president, had already allocated it for other items, causing a short-term disaster which was resolved by both sides in part through the creation of the account.
After Pascarella declined to run for another term on the council, he was appointed to fill a vacant seat on the school board and sits now sits on its finance committee.
Now, if the school district runs short due to excess special education costs, it can request the funds from the account to make up the shortfall, Pascarella said.
"It's set aside for school purposes should the school system need it," he said.
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The district is working on a plan that would bring many of its special eduction students who are sent out of district back home, D'Agostino said, by expanding programs offered in-district. Those programs could even be open to other districts if there are available seats, he said, eventually generating revenue for the district.
Sixty special education students alone are costing the district $4 million alone in tuition placements, he told the council, and 20 of those are autistic students. By implementing a program for autistic students, those costs could be drastically reduced while providing the same services the students are now receiving elsewhere, he said.
"The ultimate goal is to offer seats to other districts," he said.
"The board is actively trying to be a supplier rather than a purchaser of special education," Pascarella said. "This is definitely within the three-year plan."
Meanwhile, the discussion wasn't as optimistic when it came to the pension plan. The study on how best to approach the issue of dealing with the deficit won't be ready before the council votes on the budget, Chief Administrative Officer Curt Balzano Leng said, so some council members suggested contributing more than Jackson's suggested $6.3 million contribution, which would hike takes up even more.