Monona Grove School District residents paid about $4.5 million for special education expenses last year. Another $1.5 million in costs were funded by the state, but local officials are hoping for more.
“We have not seen an increase in special education funding in at least 10 years,” said Jerrud Rossing, director of business services for the Monona Grove district. “In fact, the reimbursement has decreased.”
The state reimburses the district at a rate of 25 percent of the total costs incurred from the previous year. Rossing said that when he started working at MG, the reimbursement rate was 28 percent.
“We transfer $4.5 million from our general fund for special education, because the costs are that much higher than state aid,” Rossing said.
About 8 percent of the students in the district receive special education.
“The severity of some of the students’ needs require a lot of individual attention,” Rossing said.
Monona Grove School District is required by law – as are all districts in the state – to provide a free and appropriate public education to students in the district. Officials must remove barriers and provide access for all students. What special education students require to be successful varies widely, as does the cost.
Gov. Tony Evers has proposed increasing the reimbursement rate in each year of his two-year budget. In the first year, the rate would increase to 30 percent (a boost of $300,000 for MG, and in the second year, it would double to 60 percent (about $2.1 million more than MG currently receives).
Republicans control the state Joint Finance Committee, and members there have proposed a 26 percent rate in the first year (about $60,000 more for MG) and 30 percent in the second year (about $300,000 for MG).
Evers’ proposal raises school districts’ revenue limit by $200 per student in the first year and another $204 in the second year. After that, the increases would be tied to the rate of inflation.
The Joint Finance Committee agrees with the amounts but differs on how the increases would be funded. Committee members want $175 per pupil increase on revenue limits, with only a per pupil aid increase of $25.
Rossing reiterated that an increase in general equalization state aid does not mean the district has more money to spend; increases in state aid are offset by decreases in the local tax burden.
“There are no new funds for us,” he said.
Under Evers’ plan and the Joint Finance Committee proposal, the $200 per pupil increase would amount to about $800,000 for Monona Grove schools, equal to about a 1.9 percent increase.
“With CPI (consumer price index) at 2.44 percent, we can’t say we are moving forward with the standard of living,” Rossing said.
There could be more savings for MG coming with insurance costs, but Rossing said those discussions are still being held.
The per pupil aid would have to be used by the district to cover all increases, including pay raises, transportation costs, insurance and other benefits.
Rossing said the district would be better served with a $300-$400 per pupil increase, which would give the district 2.5-3 percent for cost of living increases.
Approval of the state budget could be split into two budget bills, but that would probably have little impact on the MG schools, as it is expected K-12 funding would be included in only one of the two bills.
In total, Evers has requested $1.4 billion more for education. Republicans have countered with a plan for $500 million.
“The governor could veto the entire budget, and we’ve never been through that before,” Rossing said. “If that would occur, the status quo would carry forward.”
Monona Grove School Board members were scheduled see the 2019-20 school budget Wednesday. Because that is the only planned board meeting before the July 1 budget year begins, members were expected to approve the budget as well.
“It will be a pretty fluid budget until the state approves its budget,” Rossing said.