Rising special education costs forced the Board of Education to request a special appropriation to cover this year's debt.

The BOF agreed to approve $265,000 from the special education reserve and also approved a motion to recommend the RTM approve a special appropriation of $210,000 from the general fund. As a worst case scenario, the BOE predicted a budget deficit of $475,000 for the current year.

Superintendent of Schools Stephen Falcone explained to the Board of Finance the increase in special education services caused an overrun in the budget.

"This year we have found incredibly high costs in special education and district tuition," Falcone said. "We have determined our programs can't meet the needs of some of the children which means they have to go out of district."

By law, if a child cannot be educated within the same district, the district is responsible for paying that student's tuition. The state provides some money to off-set the costs but not enough to completely defray the expense, Falcone said.

The BOF was aware special education costs could go up this year and took measures to create savings in other areas of the budget.

"Since we've been aware of higher costs early in the year, we stayed away from hiring," Falcone said. "We reduced the number of special education aides and those are some of our off-sets."

Falcone estimated the total savings from hiring freezes amounted to about $500,000.

"That's part of the way we've tried to recoup some of our losses," Falcone said.

On a more positive note, Falcone said the district may have more excess cost revenue this year. Typically, the state covers between 70 and 75 percent of the district's excess costs. However, the exact amount of reimbursement is hard to pin down, Falcone said.

Darien also received a $100 Federal Jobs Grant. Some BOF members questioned whether the money had to be used for hiring or it could be used to cover existing staff expenses.

"The way we interpreted the grant was the money could be used to support current personnel," Falcone said.

As a means of generating additional revenue, Falcone said a summer school catalog was sent to parents, which offers more single-week offerings as opposed to the traditional five week offerings.

"Our big months are April, May and June," Falcone said for summer school attendance.

BOF Chairman Liz Mao asked if a child qualifies for special education designation if the child only suffers from emotional issues.

Falcone said the child could be designated as needing special education services as long as the child fell under one of the disability categories. Falcone said there is a section of the special education categories that deals with emotional issues.

"Usually withe emotional issues there is a therapeutic piece and an educational piece," Falcone said. "We are usually only asked to pick up the educational piece."

Much of the debate on the BOF centered around the proposal of completely depleting the $365,000 in the special education reserve fund or keeping $100,000 in the reserve in case future expenses were incurred.

The board eventually agreed, with only Vice Chairman Martha Banks in opposition, of using $265,000 from the reserve fund. However, any money the BOE returns could be put back into the reserve fund, Finance Director Kate Buch said.

"I would recommend the board put any fund balances back into the reserve over the summer," Buch said.

The next step of the process involves the RTM approving the $110,000 special appropriation.