Friday, December 20, 2002
FinCom reviews SPED costs
At the December 11 finance committee meeting, chair Larry Barton renewed a discussion of the impact of special education (SPED) costs at the school (see December 13 issue of the Mosquito). "With the school population increasing 3 or 4%, what's driving budget increases of 6 to 7%?" asked Barton of Carlisle School Superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson.
Fox Melanson pointed to inflation and mandated programs. "SPED students represent 10% of the student body and are responsible for 30% of cost increases," she noted. "One child can represent a huge dollar amount. What we're finding is students we're getting are much more complicated, requiring an enormous amount of service." She said this is a trend across the country and not likely to improve soon, as the pre-school has some of the most challenged children.
Is Carlisle a SPED magnet?
Asked whether the school had become a "magnet" for SPED students due to the high level of service provided, Fox- Melanson responded, "I've never worked anywhere that didn't believe that to be true [of their systems]." She said Carlisle has a lower percentage of SPED students than others in the C.A.S.E. (Concord Area Special Education) collaborative at 11-13%.
"How do we know if we're providing good quality or gold-plated quality?" asked FinCom member Lisa Jensen-Fellows. She pointed to SPED costs per student in Carlisle as being "considerably higher" than the state average, and noted that Carlisle contains a "highly-educated parent population" well prepared to ad-vocate aggressively for services. She further observed the school has avoided lawsuits, adding, "That's good. But may-be we need to draw a line in the sand or we get pushed and pushed for more service."
Fox-Melanson responded, "I'd rather spend money on services than on litigation." She noted that a court case incurs lawyers' fees, the costs of tying-up the school staff, and a potential cost for providing services above what might otherwise have been agreed on.
Is the school a pushover?
Responding to the view the school is being pushed around by parents, Fox- Melanson was emphatic in saying, "I don't think that's happening." She noted the screening process is laid out in detail, and there are careful assessments made at each step according to state guidelines.
FinCom member Deb Belanger compared Carlisle's SPED costs to Concord's and concluded, "Carlisle seems on the low side." She cited SPED per pupil averages for Carlisle as $19,000 in 2001 and $23,000 in 2002, whereas Concord paid between $12,000 and $35,000 depending on the placement.
Town administrator Madonna McKenzie also provided support for the "no pushover" viewpoint, saying she often receives complaints."There are a number of parents in town that don't feel they're getting what they want," said McKenzie. Responded Fox-Melanson, "But their children are getting what they need."
Managing SPED cost fluctuations
Barton suggested there might be a way to better manage SPED costs by taking them out of the baseline budget. FinCom member John Nock pointed to an initiative in Concord to treat SPED costs like the cost of snow removal, which the state allows to be entered on the recap sheet as an actual amount rather than be forecasted as part of the budget. FinCom member Tony Allison, noting that in Carlisle spikes in SPED costs have not been a big problem, said, "SPED has been pretty well-managed. There's not been a lot of use of the reserve fund." The reserve fund is tapped when unexpected expenses occur after a budget has been finalized. Fox- Melanson noted the existence of the pre-school has helped Carlisle avoid out-of-district placements.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito