Mold, growing enrollment factors to Stamford schools budget

January 19, 2019 GMT

STAMFORD — “Mold” has been the buzz word around the city in recent months. The infestation in school buildings across the district was last estimated to cost $60 million to clean the mold and prevent it from returning.

But officials are starting to examine the bigger picture of the district’s finances as budget season nears. While mold has cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars in remediation, factors like a growing student population, including more with special needs, and maintaining aging school buildings are also fueling budget requests.

During a recent Board of Education meeting, district officials discussed initiatives and drivers of the budget.

“The goal is to prepare each and every student for higher education,” chief fiscal and operations support officer Clarence Zachery said. “What’s been going on with the mold, we know we have some facility issues we’re dealing with. We’re trying to find the funds to prepare and upgrade our facilities.”

In the presentation, Zachery said the district is expecting large increases in repair and maintenance, electric, grounds and maintenance supplies to keep the buildings in usable conditions.

Another factor to the budget is an increasing population: Stamford Public Schools predicts 224 new students will enroll in the fall — a 1.4 percent increase. This would bring Stamford’s student population to 16,306.

Numbers from the last 10 years show that while Stamford’s general enrollment has remained the same, the special education population has increased by more than 5 percent. The city is projected to serve 2,414 special education students in the next school year.

As a result, central office administration is focusing on providing more in-district services to special education students to reduce costs of sending them elsewhere.

Among floated initiatives is a proposal to hire six speech pathologists instead of using outside contractors, adding six special education positions and creating new programs for students with autism and developmental disabilities. The district is also considering adding nine paraeducators for these programs, as well as bringing in new special education literacy support specialists.

These positions have been filled by outside contractors.

“We’re trying to bring in the same services for less money,” Zachery said.

According to data from central office, each special education student taught in-district costs $29,550, while students sent out of district cost the city $76,948.

Superintendent Earl Kim said in December the district will consider bringing students back in-district as soon as this year to help offset the cost of mold remediation.

erin.kayata@stamfordadvocate.com; (203) 964-2265; @erin_kayata