West Springfield board backs $48 million budget with special education increases

WEST SPRINGFIELD — School Committee members approved a budget of $48,886,975 for next year at their April 5 meeting.

The budget represents a 5.66 percent increase over the current year’s $46.27 million in spending, but school administrators pointed to a pair of $1 million changes that account for most of the increase.

In a report delivered March 8, the school’s business manager, Kim Hunter, highlighted the massive increase in out-of-district tuition rates for special education students. That item has jumped from $3.87 million in the current school year to $5.2 million in the proposed budget.

“We’ve gone up 50 percent, year over year, in high school referrals, which is not normal,” Schools Superintendent Timothy Connor said last month. “Many of them have to do with socio-emotional aspects. [health] and anxiety and depression. … Children are coming out of a pandemic.”

He also noted that three students who moved to the city last year and required special education services that local schools couldn’t provide, alone accounted for $478,000 of the increased spending.

Hunter said another reason for the 5.66 percent increase in the bottom line is the elimination of Emergency Relief for Elementary and Secondary Schools (ESSER) funds, grants from the pandemic aid approved by Congress in 2020 and 2021, from the operating budget. Last year’s budget was balanced with $1 million from ESSER. This year, the district’s remaining ESSER aid will be treated as a separate one-time fund. The ESSER money must be spent by fiscal year 2025.

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