Friday, May 8, 1998

Ways to manage SPED costs

To the Editor:

I wish to elaborate on my statements in the Mosquito interview of the candidates and at the League of Women Voters forum. I am concerned that special education (SPED) costs are rising at a rate of over 16 percent per year, so that they now account for 29 percent of the school budget. This is largely due to state and federal mandates. At this pace, SPED costs will soon exceed those of regular education. We will reach a crisis before that. With our tax rate at or near the levy limit, we will be faced with either massive overrides or the need to drastically cut operating expenses. Since 70 percent of the town's operating budget is devoted to education, the only place where cuts of the size necessary could be made are in regular education. Therefore, we need to step in and manage these increases.

There are a number of things we can do. We can work to get back from the state a greater percentage of the mandated costs than we now get (we get 18 percent while communities in other states get 50 percent). This will require that we make progress on establishing affordable housing within town.

We can work with legislators to review proposed future mandates in this field.

We can expand contacts with parents of pre-schoolers to convince them to start their children in our schools. Give us a chance to show we can address their needs.

We can work to minimize out-of-school transfers.

We can broaden the above initiative by gradually influencing parents of primary grade children already transferred out of town, to bring their children back.

I have volunteered to act as a liaison for the finance committee with state senator Susan Fargo on this issue. Susan met with the FinCom and offered her good offices in this regard. The aim is to help her establish a plan for enlisting the support of her fellow suburban senators to form a voting block that will make our conclusions stick. I'm gratified to find a number of concerned individuals willing to work with me in this effort. They include: superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson, SPED director Linda Stapp, business manager Eileen Riley, parent Sue Koning, school committee member Cindy Nock and FinCom member Tom Bilotta. With their help, I'm optimistic that we can make a difference and avoid a crisis.

Charlie Parker

Log Hill Road