The following is from a column called CFO's Corner written by chief financial officer Karen Maloney. Her columns are published occasionally on the district's website, www.nusd.org.
In the Novato Unified School District and across the United States, educators know that it takes more resources to provide the same education for many students. This is true for the 1,035 special education students and their families served by NUSD.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates that schools provide "a free and appropriate education to meet his or her unique needs in the least restrictive environment to children with exceptional needs". Of the 1,035 special education students, 877 are served in programs offered by NUSD, 116 are served in programs offered by the Marin County Office of Education and 42 are served by programs by outside agencies known as nonpublic agencies.
The student's needs are determined through an assessment either requested by parents or by the district. From that assessment, an Individual Education Plan is developed and the student is matched with the appropriate services.
Since its enactment in 1975, the federal mandate, IDEA, promised to fund 40 percent of those services needed by the student. The goal of 40 percent has never been reached and, in most districts, IDEA funds approximately 17 percent of the costs.
The NUSD 2011-12 budget for services for special education students is $11.7 million with funding of $1.6 million from federal IDEA and $4.7 million from state and local sources. As expenditures for services exceed funding by $5.5 million, a contribution or transfer of funds from general education funding makes up the difference.
Additionally, the district provides transportation for special educational students. The state of California continues to slash funding for transportation, which results in the NUSD district balancing out the shortfall of $1.4 million by utilizing general fund sources.
As stated by Nancy LaCasse of School Services of California, "The state and federal government have failed to adequately fund special education since the federal law was enacted."
California receives $1.2 billion in federal funds for special education. If the amount of 40 percent was given, California would have $2.3 billion in federal funds. For NUSD this would mean an increase of $3.1 million. If the state and federal government choose to fund these mandates, the increase would reduce NUSD's projected deficit of $4 million for 2012-13.
As reported by Liz Smith, the district's Director of Student Services, at the May 1 school board meeting, the district will begin to provide mental health services for special education students formerly provided by the Marin County Mental Health department and funded by the state of California as required by Assembly Bill 3632. This mandate was vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger resulting in school districts required to provide the same services but with approximately 60 percent of the funding previously provided to county governments.
This shift in responsibilities is estimated to have a net unfunded cost of $1 million for NUSD starting the 2012-13 year. This deficit will add to the current unfunded cost of special education services and transportation bringing the total to $8.2 million or 12.4 percent of the NUSD $66 million budget.
Yes, it does cost more to provide the necessary services for our most vulnerable students; however, we also believe that the federal and state governments should be held to their promises and fund the mandates.
Novato Patch readers: Do you see a solution to this issue? How would you handle it if you were on the school board? Add a comment below.