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Darien To Examine Special Ed Spending

A projected $408,000 shortfall in Darien’s special education budget for next year will be the topic of a Board of Finance meeting Tuesday. Superintendent of Schools Stephen Falcone will attend the session.

Last year, the school district was forced to request an additional $350,000 from the town to cover rising special education costs. The extra expenses are due to high legal fees, tuition for special education students who attend private schools outside the district and underfunded state mandates. At a recent Board of Finance meeting, Board of Education chairman Kim Westcott said that state reimbursement for special education had decreased 25 percent this year.

While approving the town's operating budget for 2012, several members of the Board of Finance supported the Board of Education's budget but said the school board  needed to do a better job of not exceeding it.

School board vice chair Martha Banks said she didn’t want to ask the school board to cut its budget. "I'd prefer if you go back and scour the budget and come up with money to hire an outside expert to sit down with you throughout the year and help get things turned around," she said. "It's important to deliver the quality of services our special education students deserve, but we've got to deliver it at an affordable price for the taxpayer. This cannot continue to go on and on."

Board of Finance member Jon Zagrodzky said parents need to be better informed about the issues with special education. "It's significantly impacted the board's ability to do things parents asked for. If we didn't have this increase this year, we could more than easily pay for foreign language in elementary schools and other things they've asked for."

Many parents have written letters to the Board of Finance asking it to support the schools budget. Zagrodzky urged them also to send letters to legislators in Hartford about special education. "They are making decisions that are affecting all of our children, not just the special ed children. Parents would do well to be much better informed."

What do you think of the special education deficit? Join the conversation in the comments below, or on Facebook and Twitter .

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