By CHELSEY POLLOCK
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY — Pinkerton Academy will return $356,000 in tuition dollars to sending towns this year, after school officials say special education spending remained level despite increased enrollment.
The refunds — which exceed $285,500 to Derry, $39,900 to Hampstead and $30,600 to Chester — will likely be put toward the first tuition payment for the 2010-2011 school year due in October, according to Pinkerton Academy Treasurer James Mulrennan.
And more than $300,000 of that refund comes from the school’s special education accounts, Mulrennan reported.
Pinkerton Finance Administrator Glenn Neagle said the refund largely comes from unspent special education tuition for the PASSES program, which helps students with emotional disabilities transition to school, and the Resource Room, which provides staff members to assist students in completing homework and studying for tests, according to the school’s course catalog.
In the PASSES program, for example, Neagle said the school usually provides services for about 35 students. But the program is relatively expensive, he said, and the addition of just a few new students might not require the school to hire an additional staff person. “You could have one or two or three extra kids in the program and actually run it OK without having to add the extra people,” he said Monday.
On the regular education side, Neagle said the school was also able to save money on heating fuel and health insurance costs last year.
For the 2009-2010 school year, Pinkerton’s tuition was set at $8,976 per student, with increased costs for students in special education programs, building a total budget of nearly $34 million.
And while an independent auditor examines the school’s financial reports each year, school staff generally have an idea of how close they will come to that budgeted number by the end of the school year, Neagle said.
School officials usually meet with sending towns in June to give them an idea of how much of a refund they might expect, Neagle said, or whether or not they could end up having to send additional tuition to cover unanticipated costs.
“Of course, it’s all subject to our audit,” Neagle said. “But they have a feel for it in the summertime of where we’re coming out and where we should be.”
The independent audit is usually completed by the first two weeks in September, he said, and findings are reported to the Pinkerton Academy Board of Trustees and then to the general public.
As a nonprofit organization, Pinkerton Academy is required to refund unspent tuition dollars to sending towns. And school staff say that more often than not some amount of money is returned to taxpayers after the audit.