By GAIL LOWE
WAKEFIELD — The school board heard good news from schools Business Administrator Michael Pfifferling at last night’s meeting — the relief request for Special Education (SPED) expenses will come in higher than what was anticipated from the state.
Pfifferling said that he had just received word yesterday morning from officials at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
This means that less money than was expected will need to be withdrawn from the stabilization fund established in 2014 with the town for extraordinary SPED expenses.
“We will transfer $150,000 from the stabilization fund to the SPED account,” said Pfifferling. The stabilization fund currently has a balance of $330,000, leaving $180,000 untouched.
In the spring of 2014, school board members voted unanimously to accept a proposed Article concerning the creation of the SPED stabilization fund recommended by school administrators. The proposed Article was reviewed by the Finance Committee before it went to the Board of Selectman. The measure was then voted on at Town Meeting and it passed.
The stabilization fund is overseen by Town Treasurer John J. McCarthy Jr. and supports unanticipated and unbudgeted SPED costs that arise from year to year.
For the academic year 2014-2015, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Stephen K. Zrike cited three examples of how extraordinary expenses are defined:
• A student who requires SPED could move into the Wakefield school district after the budget is finalized.
• A student in the Wakefield school district could be placed outside the district into one that is more costly but more appropriate for his or her individual needs.
• Transportation to and from school.
A year ago, Dr. Zrike referred to SPED funding as a “moving target” because it is difficult to predict or project an amount due to the changing nature of needs of mandated services and especially for students in out-of-district placements that require tuition charges and transportation costs.
Students with special needs periodically move into Wakefield subsequent to approval of the annual budget, he said.
“Establishing the stabilization fund has ensured that adequate money has been set aside to provide mandated services to SPED students while maintaining the integrity of our core efforts to improve student learning across the system,” Zrike said in 2014. He added that it is important that the district’s special needs students receive the educational experience they deserve without compromising critical district-wide programs and the funding for curriculum materials, technology and extracurricular activities.
Zrike pointed out that because funds from the account may be withdrawn with only a two-thirds majority vote of approval at Town Meeting, any requested amount must be reviewed by the Finance Committee.
After all expenses are paid at the end of the fiscal year, any unused money from the $150,000 withdrawn from the stabilization fund will go back to the town.