Parsing the rises in school costs

There are many line items involved in crafting a school budget; for a very comprehensive description of this year’s proposed budget, please see this report, Redding.School1819Budget.Facts, to the Redding community from Superintendent Dr. Tom McMorran. But two general types of line items that have recently contributed substantially to rising costs of education are special education and health insurance. In this post we look at how those costs have changed recently in Redding, focusing particularly on K-8 where next year’s budget is still up in the air.

Just as a biological reality, quite independent from policies and administrations, the proportion of special education students has steadily risen, as has severity of special needs. Consider for instance the incidence of diagnosed autism: according to one recent CDC study, the incidence is currently estimated to be 1 in 59 children. Back in 2000, the estimate from the CDC was 1 in 150.

Connecticut state law mandates that adequate professional and paraprofessional care be afforded to children identified as special needs students, which in Redding K-8 is about 1 in 14 students. Meanwhile, costs associated with such care are often much higher than the costs for general education students, and continue to rise. The increase of special ed costs from 2017-2018 to 2018-2019 (pending approval of the budget) is more than $650,000, according to Dr. McMorran’s report, and the need for that increase seems not to be in question for either the BOE or the BOF.

Health insurance costs (for both students and staff) have recently spiked. To meet adequate levels of coverage, the BOE currently requests $350,000 more than last year’s insurance bill, representing about a 19% rise. This despite a slight dip in student population, and despite the search for competitive pricing.

Transportation costs are also up, by more than $100,000.

Other items — basic overhead costs having nothing to do with declining enrollment numbers, such as costs of heating oil and air conditioning, building maintenance, septic, and cleaning — also add to the general rise in school costs. For example, operation and maintenance of the physical plant is up by about $100,000.

Given these realities, there are significant pressures making it increasingly difficult to hold total school expenditures down. But, in Redding they have been held down. If we put just special education and health insurance costs to one side and look at all other spending (including overhead expenditures) combined, that spending has gone down by about $1.2 million between 2012-2013 and 2017-2018, in other words by about 8.2%. Under the current budget proposal, it will sink even further, down by $1.6 million (or about 11%) relative to the 2012-2013 level.

More information can be gleaned from this table, from which some of the costs cited above were drawn.