The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 14, 2007


CCHS finds Special Education costs hard to predict

For a look at forces driving fluctuations in Special Education (SPED) expenses at the Concord-Carlisle Regional High School (CCHS), the Mosquito recently interviewed Assistant Superintendent Diana Rigby. SPED costs change weekly, sometimes daily, she explained, because the needs of students who receive special education services vary greatly and change often.

As of October 1, the number of SPED students was 213; that is 16% of the high school student population. Most special education students study at the high school, but some are sent, at district expense, to other educational settings. During the past several months, 11 new out-of-district placements boosted the total number of such by a quarter, to a current total of 54 out-of-district placements.

The SPED budget (FY08) as set last winter came to about 20% of the total CCHS budget. Primarily as a result of the jump in out-of-district placements and other placement changes, the SPED budget has incurred $874,000 in unanticipated costs. "We do our absolute best in trying to estimate next year's SPED costs," said Rigby, but cautioned, "We decide on a budget in December for a school year that starts nine months in the future."

The preliminary SPED budget for FY09 has been increased 20.5% compared to last year, and at $4,832,243 it will use almost 23% of the total preliminary FY09 budget for CCHS.

The state and federal government have not funded SPED costs sufficiently, Rigby believes, and she said the costs are difficult for smaller school systems to handle. It is particularly hard for a regional school such as CCHS that only includes grades 9 through 12, because some of the most expensive services are needed for this age group and the costs cannot be averaged over a K-12 system.

Rigby talked about the wide variation both between different students, and over time as each individual's SPED needs may change. Rigby gave several examples. On one hand, a student may only need a service for a short period of time and then no longer need it. On the other hand, students may manage the environment at CCHS their freshman year, but then require out-of-district placements as sophomores. "A college prep high school may not be a good environment for some students," she said.

Rigby also made the point that serious emotional disorders are sometimes masked until high school, and noted that students who are placed in therapeutic learning environments may suffer from problems such as: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or anorexia.

Rigby explained there are "steps" of learning environments that are more and more restrictive, including: regular education at CCHS, regular education with SPED services at CCHS, the SPED Program at CCHS which is more restrictive and students have less interaction with mainstream students, the CASE Collaborative Program, private day school, a more restrictive private day school and then a residential school.

"Each of these steps is more expensive," tells Rigby. "Placements change all the time depending on how well the student is progressing or not progressing. It makes it very difficult to predict costs."

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito