Special education, transportation drive up Chichester school taxes


Monitor staff

Published: 03-11-2023 3:17 PM

Chichester residents approved the school district’s proposed operational budget of $7.43 million – a nearly 9% increase from last year – most of which comes from an increase in special education funding and transportation expenses.

The need for additional services, business administrator Amber Wheeler explained to voters Saturday morning, will increase special education transportation by $190,000, while regular education transportation is projected to increase $175,000, which includes the transportation of homeless students.

“If a student is homeless when they leave Chichester, we are still financially responsible for that child no matter where they go in the state and we fear the financial responsibility for that child,” said Jessica Bickford, director of school services. “We’ve seen the number of students in that situation significantly increase in the past year and it’s not looking like it’s going to get any better.”

Because of a nationwide bus driver shortage, districts like Chichester are financially obligated to still provide services while facing daily costs of $400 to $600. By law the district must accept children from families who once lived in town and are now homeless.

“It’s the state and federal government that require these services and aren’t contributing the funds,” said Doug Hall. “If they did, it wouldn’t effect the local property tax rates and parents could live wherever they wanted without worrying they’re turning the community against them.”

The budget will mean a $2.24 increase over the previous year school tax rate, which is $672 more a year for a house worth $300,000. The increase will cover support for schools, the payment of salaries and benefits for school district employees.

Additionally, residents approved $100,000 for the special education expendable trust fund to help defray the unanticipated costs of a special needs student joining the community, $16,000 to the technology expendable trust fund for future technological advancements outlined in the Capital Improvement Plan, and $25,000 to the building maintenance expendable trust fund for future anticipated roof repair costs which, in total, will raise taxes by 43 cents.

“We are trying to build a future by putting small amounts of money away because we don’t have the surplus to fund it,” Wheeler said. “If we use all of our funding sources and still don’t have enough money, we’ll be back in a meeting like this asking resident for additional funding to help pay for whatever it may be.”

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The municipal portion of Town Meeting will be held at the Chichester Central School on Saturday March 18 at 9 a.m. Voting for town and school candidates will be held Tuesday, March 14.