Carlisle School reconsiders membership in CASE

by Karina Coombs

Superintendent Joan Wickman announced that the Carlisle School would start exploring alternatives to the Concord Area Special Education (CASE) Collaborative program to which it currently belongs. At the June 8 Carlisle School Committee (CSC) meeting, Wickman explained that while the collaborative has a good program, its tuition rates are considerably higher than comparable programs. Director of Student Services Jack Tiano explained that transportation costs for the program are also high, in some cases one third more than other collaboratives he has worked with in the past. If costs cannot be controlled, Wickman noted it could add an additional $35,000 for tuition to the FY15 budget.

CASE offers preschool through 12th-grade special education services for students who require specialized programs not offered in their district. Carlisle joins the neighboring towns of Acton, Bedford, Boxborough, Concord, Harvard, Lincoln, Littleton, Maynard and Sudbury. Created in 1974, the collaborative offers programs for students with developmental disabilities, autism spectrum disorders and students with social or emotional disabilities. 

As a member of CASE, the Carlisle School pays a $5,000 annual fee and provides a classroom used by the program. The Carlisle classroom is used for elementary students with developmental delays. There are currently six Carlisle students enrolled in CASE classes. Three students are in the on-site program and three are transported.

New rules bring little financial relief

A 2011 audit of the state’s special education agencies discovered a number of state collaboratives had misspent funds into the tens of millions of dollars. Wickman explained that because of this, there are new state laws addressing how collaboratives are managed and funded. One of the changes as a result of the new regulations is that collaboratives are no longer able to keep unspent funds from one year to the next. Some towns may see some of these returned funds applied to their tuition, but Wickman noted that Carlisle was too small for it to make a significant difference and offset costs. 

CASE is aware their costs are high and, according to Wickman is actively trying to find ways to make the programs more cost effective. One of the changes is to go to a three-tier system for service. Instead of charging the same amount per student no matter the services needed, the new system will charge varying amounts depending on the programs used. 

The total FY15 tuition for CASE was budgeted at approximately $120,000 according to Wickman. She explained that she and Tiano had only learned of the upcoming tuition changes at a recent CASE meeting. Reached after the CSC meeting, Wickman explained that the program was not financially favorable to Carlisle and she felt it her responsibility to be fiscally responsible and look into others. Wickman added that any program changes would likely not happen before FY16 and she would work with families to address their concerns. ∆