Gov. Baxter School for the Deaf faces about $500K in unexpected transportation costs

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AUGUSTA — A decision by the state means Gov. Baxter School for the Deaf in Falmouth must figure out how to cover transportation costs not previously included in its budget.

The additional expense is expected to total approximately $500,000. The school’s current budget includes $5.6 million from the Maine Department of Education and $840,000 from other revenue sources, department spokesman David Connerty-Marin said.

The Department of Education this month released an administrative letter clarifying who has financial responsibility for students who attend Maine Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing/Gov. Baxter School for the Deaf.

The letter says the Mackworth Island school is responsible for student transportation costs, not the sending school districts, as had previously been assumed.

Maine Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing provides statewide services to infants, toddlers and children. School-age children are enrolled at Gov. Baxter School by the superintendents of the school districts in which they live.

Connerty-Marin said the clarification was issued after department officials became aware of questions surrounding the transportation costs.

He said the department did not receive any complaints and there is no expectation that sending districts will be reimbursed for transportation costs.

The school must take over transportation costs by July 1, according to the Department of Education.

Lynn Schardel, executive director of Maine Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, said the administrative letter did not come as a surprise to the school and officials welcomed the clarification.

Schardel said that because the school did not previously pay for transportation, it must now figure out how to cover that cost. She said school officials are still trying to determine how much transportation will cost the school, but said it is “in the range of at least $500,000.”

“So far we’re doing a survey to determine exactly what the costs are,” she said in a phone interview last week.

Schardel said there are about 40 students who use transportation to attend school on Mackworth Island. She said the program has a total of about 640 children across the state, many of whom do not attend the school.

Schardel said it is too soon to tell if school programs will be affected by the change.

“We are viewing this as an opportunity for clarification and we are making sure we can provide the money to students in the best way possible,” she said.

Gillian Graham can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or ggraham@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @grahamgillian.

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