Washtenaw County schools will see decreases in special education funds despite millage renewal
Despite passing the special education millage renewal passing by a large margin earlier this month, local school districts still will see a drop in reimbursements for special education in 2011-12.
The Washtenaw Intermediate School District will reimburse districts 73 percent of their special education costs next year, down from 77 percent in 2010-11.
However, the funding cut increases in 2012-13, when the reimbursement rate is expected to fall to 56 percent, according to Ann Arbor school board trustee Glenn Nelson.
According to a presentation made to the board of education, the WISD will take in $77.51 million in revenue in 2011-12, but will spend about $89.93 million, with all but about $6.3 million spent on special education.
The $12.42 million gap in funding will be filled by using the WISD’s fund balance, commonly referred to as a rainy day fund.
“They’re largely holding that reimbursement rate close to the same level as this year, given what’s happening in the state, that’s a big help to us,” Nelson said. “In fiscal year 2013, there is no reserve to be depleted.”
The WISD fund balance currently sits at about $14 million, and about $2.5 million would remain in 2012-13.
Nelson said the significant drop in funds comes from a combination of grant funds ending, the funding of programs like the Widening Advancements for Youth, Early College Alliance and the International Baccalaureate program and a loss of one-time funds from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.
The drop in reimbursements from the WISD means local school districts will have to commit more of their general funds toward federal and state-mandated special education programs.
The hit to the WISD and Washtenaw County school districts would have been worse if the special education millage renewal did not pass on May 3. The special education millage provides about $14 million annually to local school districts.
AAPS interim superintendent Robert Allen said school districts would still have to offer the special education services, despite the lack of reimbursement coming from the WISD.
“The obligation and expenditures will not decline,” he said. “The impact will be on the general fund when that revenue and the reimbursements continue to decline from the WISD.”
Board president Deb Mexicotte said she believes the fact that the WISD knew this drop off in funding was coming and actually asked for a decrease in the special education millage renewal was a mistake.
Mexicotte was the lone no vote on the resolution of support for the budget that the Ann Arbor school board passed Wednesday because she said the WISD decided to ask for less funds with the same millage rate instead of asking for the same funds with an increased millage rate.
“Not only are we spending down the reserve but we knew that this is what would happen, even with the overwhelming support we ended up having for the millage renewal,” she said. “This was a missed opportunity.”
Nelson said the WISD was concerned about going to voters with a higher millage rate due to the failure of the school enhancement millage in 2009 and other taxes since that point.
“Yes, we chose the more conservative route this time,” Nelson said. “You could argue the fact that we were living in 2009 when it was 2011.”