Friday, December 19, 2003
SPED director explains laws, costs, trade-offs
Appearing before the Finance Commitee on December 10, Linda Stapp, Carlisle School Director of Special Support Services, put to rest a number of misconceptions regarding the costs and availability of special education (SPED) services in Carlisle.
Stapp distributed a "Report on Special Education" which provided an overview of SPED laws, the process for deciding on an intervention, how eligibility is determined, and comparative statistics with other schools. She noted that SPED should be thought of as "a student support service, not a separate program," with most special education taking place in classrooms. By working with students and classroom teachers, specialists in reading, math, and other areas help reduce the need for SPED referrals.
Referrals not automatic
In response to a question from FinCom member Ray Wilkes regarding how ADD (attention deficit disorder) diagnoses increase SPED referrals, Stapp noted that a diagnosis does not automatically qualify a student for special services. She walked the FinCom through the evaluation process, which presents four questions that must be answered before services are approved.
1. Does the student have one or more disabilities?
2. Is the student falling behind in school?
3. Is the lack of progress a result of the disability?
4. Would specially designed services help the student?
Stapp added, "Many students with ADD make good progress without special services."
Are students with needs requiring Individual Education Plans (IEPs) "on for life?" Stapp noted that last year, of 96 SPED students (ten in pre-school), twelve were dropped, eleven because of re-evaluations, with one leaving the school. Seventeen new students were placed on IEPs.
Cost control a challenge
Stapp pointed to a list of administrative requirements for every IEP meeting, which specifies 21 separate documents that must be developed or made available for each student. "It's an enormous amount of paperwork," she noted, requiring significant staff to produce it. In addition, while state services such as the Department of Youth Services or the Department of Mental Health can put kids on waiting lists, "public education is an entitlement that must be paid, even when the state doesn't pay its share." Last year the state, short of funds, decided not to pay half its SPED commitments to school districts.
Stapp detailed several ways the Carlisle School has effectively managed SPED costs. Membership in CASE, a regional collaborative that groups students with low-incident needs, helps the school avoid private placements. The Carlisle Preschool, which provides in-house services also reduces those placements. Under state law, the public schools are required to provide services for children with special needs from age three. "We're always looking for cost-effective alternatives," Stapp explains, noting she meets frequently with other CASE members "to hear what other communities are doing."
Effective programs, cooperative parents
Stapp notes that one of the most effective cost-controls is that "Carlisle has more parents who want to keep their kids in the schools," even when those students might be eligible for outside placements. Due to the quality of the education program in Carlisle, Stapp said, parents are choosing not to pursue outplacements. It's better for all of us to include as many kids as we can in mainstream programs. She notes this has helped the school avoid lawsuits, which often are the result of a push for out-placement. Currently Carlisle has four out-of-district placements. As a point of reference, according to a chart provided, the Concord schools, with about three times as many students, have 25. Another chart detailed the costs of outside programs, which range from $20,000 to $240,000 per student.
Carlisle a magnet?
Stapp also addressed the perception Carlisle is providing services above what is required. She presented statistics showing the percentage of students receiving SPED services at 10.6% versus a 16% state average. This contradicted statistics member Bret Bero, who wasn't present to explain his numbers, had presented some weeks ago. Stapp noted that pre-school students should not be included in student body percentages. Steve Moore, school Business Manager, also noted the danger of relying on comparative statistics from the Department of Education website which has no template for reporting and "nobody does it the same way."
Stapp pointed out these statistics don't support the often-heard myth that Carlisle is a magnet for families with SPED issues. "All SPED directors think that of their schools," said Stapp. "And all superintendents," added Superin-tendent Davida Fox-Melanson.
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