Schenectady and other counties across the state will now be responsible for paying 100 percent of the administrative costs of pre-kindergarten special education services in the latest shift of state and federal fees to local municipalities.
The change affects the 2008-09 school year and the current 2008 county budgets. In Schenectady County’s case, it will have to absorb $30,000 in unanticipated costs this year, said Finance Commissioner George Davidson. This is in addition to about $300,000 the county must now pay toward pre-kindergarten special education administrative costs.
The state has also imposed a 2 percent reduction across the board in its costs; these cuts are expected to trickle down to counties this year and in coming years, officials said.
Officials from the state Education Department did not return a call.
Cost breakdowns for individual counties were not available, but the cumulative cost to counties is expected to equal about $3.8 million, said state Association of Counties Executive Director Stephen J. Acquario. Counties pay for the state-mandated prekindergarten special education program, which serves children ages 3 to 5 who have disabilities, but have no oversight of its costs, he said.
The state Education Department took administrative action June 10, saying it would no longer provide school districts with nearly $10 million in federal funding.
“School districts get the federal money, not counties, and they apply it to their own costs and send the leftover costs to counties,” Acquario said. “So, in very basic terms, schools will now bill counties for all of their CPSE administrative costs.”
Prior to the state’s action, counties paid about 41 percent of the leftover administrative costs and received 60 percent reimbursement from the state, Acquario said. Counties will still receive the 60 percent reimbursement under the policy change, he said.
For counties facing this new cost, their only options are to cut services or raise property taxes, Acquario said.
“This is a state-mandated program and counties can’t reduce the services,” he said.
Acquario said the state has the “discretion to make the difference up to counties, but is instead choosing to pass those costs along.”