Special Education Programs must Manage Reduced Budgets with Increased Caseloads

School districts continue to look for ways to reduce costs without impacting special education programs.

School districts continue to look for ways to reduce costs without impacting special education programs.

Special education departments nationwide have to find ways to address spending cuts to their programs. A school district in Connecticut plans to face its budget deficit by proposing a reduction in contracted specialists, an increase in mainstreaming time and using current special education staff to fill vacancies. 

by Yevgeniya Davydov -

Untamable? That’s how special education spending in Darien is frequently characterized, and last year its budget increased by 5%.

This year, the proposed change is 1.89%, with large cuts to contracted speech, physical therapy and occupational therapy specialists.

“Our goal in the last few years is to make sure we’re providing the most appropriate program for our students, and the most and efficient way we think that we continue to make strides in that area,” Dr. Diedre Osypuk, director of special education, told the Board of Education at a recent meeting.

Personnel

Osypuk said that next year’s proposed budget was created with several goals in mind — fostering student “independence,” decreasing teacher’s reliance on consultants and practicing fiscal responsibility in the community.

Early in the year, the district put forward a goal, to provide a “continuum of services” between general education and special education. This means that special education students should be spending more time with their non-disabled peers in the classroom, and vice versa. The district’s goal is to have 80% of students spending 79 to 100% of their time in a general classroom, Osypuk said, and in 2012, 79% of students spent the maximum recommended time in regular classrooms. A graph in her presentation revealed that more than 70% of special education students consistently spent the majority of their time with non-disabled peers over the past school years.

For continuity between classrooms, both special education and general education teachers need to be aware of all of the students’ needs and lessons. Ospyuk proposed for $49,142 to spend on professional development, compared to last year’s $9,750. The funds would be used to train all of the special education teachers in “very specific reading programs,” including Wilson, Lindamood-Bell and Orton-Gillingham; instruction on readers’, writers’, and math workshop models to mirror the curriculum changes in general classrooms; and train the psychologists on the proper way of diagnosing autism.

She also proposed that the department ask current staff members to fill vacancies, and deliver services to homebound or out-of-district students whenever possible. This means that specialists on staff will work with students instead of consultants. Specifically, the district could use their speech pathologist for out-of-district “speech and language” services. There is one teacher in Darien who is certified to teach special education and also to hearing impaired students, Osypuk said. This will lead to less spending on speech therapists, teachers aides, and consultant services, she said.

These new guidelines are apparent in the proposed budget, where several budget lines would decrease in the next school year. The department is asking for $72,903 for contracted speech services, a 72.03% decrease from the last budget cycle. There were also two speech therapist resignations this year, which is reflected in the proposed budget — a decrease of $126,242. An additional $44,064 of speech therapist salaries would be covered by a grant.

Contracted physical therapy costs would fall 62.59% if the district spends $76,696 in the next school year. The district hired one full time physical therapist in January 2012, according to the budget report.

The district would spend $2,438,481 on teacher aides’ salaries next year, compared to $2,514,968 currently. “Modification to this line represent approximately 2.8 resignations that were able to be filled with existing staff,” the budget report states.

Consultant services in operating expenses would also decrease, by 41.25%, to $357,156.

Similar to the overall district spending on substitute teachers, special education would need $73,670 to cover substitutes, compared to $53,000 last year.

Read more at Special ed personnel costs decrease, students increase.

[Via Darien Times]

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