Towns that experience sudden spikes in special education costs would have the chance to seek recourse at the state level under proposed legislation from Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle.
Devin submitted the bill in response to a recent budget crisis in Damariscotta in which a single student required the abnormally large amount of roughly $200,000 worth of special education services. While Damariscotta was not responsible for the entire bill, the cost was still difficult for a small town to absorb into its budget.
By law, towns pay the entire cost up front. Their partial reimbursement from the state comes in small installments over an extended period of time.
“Cost spikes like the one in Damariscotta have already happened three times in Lincoln County over last decade,” said Devin. “Without some kind of action from the Legislature, we run the risk of crippling more local school budgets, squeezing already-strapped property taxpayers and dealing with cuts to both school programs and basic town services. We need to fix this problem before it happens again.”
Devin’s bill would have the state step in to work with towns during future unexpected spikes. If the measure is considered in the upcoming session, the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee would likely decide what that intervention would look like.
Recently schools in Rockland and RSU 71 in the Belfast area have experienced similar spikes. Devin is currently seeking information about school districts from around the state to determine the extent of the problem.
“Towns don’t have the same freedom or flexibility to address these types of emergencies that the state does,” said Steven Bailey, superintendent of the Central Lincoln County School System, or AOS 93. “If we want all our students to have a quality public education without breaking the bank, the Legislature needs to find a way to work together with Damariscotta and other parts of Maine that are having a similar experience.”
During even-numbered years, the Legislature generally limits bill submissions to those that address pressing situations.
The Legislative Council, a bipartisan group of leaders from the Maine House and Senate, will decide Thursday whether Devin’s bill should be considered this year.
Devin is serving his second term in the Maine House and represents Bremen, Bristol, Damariscotta, Newcastle, part of Nobleboro, part of South Bristol, Monhegan Plantation and the unorganized territory of Louds Island.