BAR HARBOR — A new state law will significantly increase state subsidies for special education at all nine schools in the Mount Desert Island Regional School System (MDIRSS) over the next four years.
That change is so important, according to MDIRSS Superintendent Howard Colter, that Rep. Brian Hubbell (D-Bar Harbor) deserves a “bear hug” for getting it included in a wide-ranging bill aimed at reforming public education funding and improving student performance. The bill was passed by both houses of the legislature and signed by the governor last month.
It will increase the state’s share of funding for special education from 30 percent to 50 percent by 2020 for schools that are “minimum receivers” of state aid. All of the MDIRSS schools are minimum receivers, which means the only state subsidy they receive is for special education.
In 2004, the state adopted a new public education funding model that committed the state to pay 100 percent of special education costs for minimum receiver schools. However, in each of the next three years, the state paid only 84 percent of those costs.
“Since the recession hit [in 2008] and state funding was curtailed, the minimum special ed subsidy has only decreased and has bottomed out at 30 percent,” Hubbell said in an email.
He said it costs the state about $7.5 million to pay 30 percent of the cost of special education at minimum receiver schools. Increasing that by 5 percent in each of the next four years will add another $5 million.
“If the state actually met its original obligation [of 100 percent], the total amount would be about $25 million,” Hubbell said.
Not all costs associated with special education are eligible for state reimbursement. The state currently covers 30 percent of salaries, benefits and contracted professional services, but does not help pay for equipment, supplies and certain other expenses.
The nine MDIRSS schools expect to spend a total of $5.58 million on special education in the coming year.
MDI High School’s special education budget is $1.44 million. For the eight towns with elementary schools, the special education budgets are: Bar Harbor, $1.36 million; Southwest Harbor, $781,811; Mount Desert, $665,347; Trenton, $657,722; Tremont, $426,715; Swans Island, $184,500; Cranberry Isles, $48,838; and Frenchboro, $18,946.