Programs for Exceptional Children
The Five Town CSD & MSAD #28 provide special education and related services to over 200 eligible children and youth with disabilities, ages 5 through 20, in accordance with federal and state mandates outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 and the Maine Special Education Regulations, Chapter 101 (2007). We offer a continuum of services and programs to meet the needs of students with disabilities that will enable them to develop their unique talents and abilities. Special Education services include diagnostic, instructional, and related services. We offer services at our three schools and, in some cases, through regional programs, other school districts or by approved outside agencies. These programs and services, ranging from consultation with classroom teachers to highly individualized programs, are designed to ensure that appropriate programs are available to all children with disabilities in the least restrictive environment with an opportunity for education with non disabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate. When a student is found eligible for special education services, the student's parent(s) and a team of professionals together develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Depending on need, children and youth with IEPs may receive classroom accommodations, specially designed instruction and related services such as speech, occupational or physical therapy, positive behavioral supports, personal care.
The district also provides the educational programs for students residing at the group homes operated by Harbor Family Services (HFS) in Rockport. The state reimburses us for the costs of educating these students, who come from all parts of Maine and are placed at HFS by the state. When HFS opened their first group home in Rockport ten years ago, the Maine Department of Education encouraged MSAD #28 to develop a comprehensive special educational infrastructure at Rockport Elementary School and Camden-Rockport Middle School to annually serve approximately ten to twelve youngsters, designated as state agency clients. Until 2008, the SAD received a substantial annual grant and other reimbursements to cover costs for administration, supplies, and personnel for the program, which served state agency clients as well as students with disabilities from SAD 28. A second group home was established in Rockport in March 2003 to serve 6-8 high school students with co-occurring diagnosis. The CSD received a grant to operate a self-contained special education program on-site at HFS II. In 2008, the state discontinued reimbursing the districts via grants and we now bill the state on a fee per service basis for each state agency client to recover the costs for their special educational programs. While the self-contained special education program is meeting the needs of students residing at HFS II, the majority of youngsters at HFS I attend a special purpose private school in Belfast. Due to curtailment of the grant and more complex needs of many of the children served by HFS I, we have cut over 80% of the positions at MSAD #28 that were previously supported by the State Agency grants and other reimbursements. Over the past several years, HFS management has been careful to admit only youngsters who qualify as state agency clients. This criteria is important as it allows the CSD and SAD to receive 100% reimbursement from the state for the special education costs of students residing at HFS I & II.
Recent reductions in state aid to education have heightened review of the high costs and efficacy for programs and services to students with disabilities. Funding streams for special education include federal and state dollars and, until recently, Medicaid reimbursements for school based rehabilitative services. There is concern that Maine’s prevalence of students identified with disabilities is among the highest in the United States along with the associated high costs of providing special education programs. In addition, prevalence rates and spending among similar school districts varies widely. We have compared special education prevalence rates in the CSD and SAD with state and the most current national data available (2007). In 2007 national identification rate for children (age 6-21) with disabilities was 8.69%, Maine was 11.68%, CSD- 17.6%, SAD #28 -19.3%. While there is no question that many children receive high quality individualized instruction and vital support through special education, the elevated rates of children identified with disabilities in our schools is of concern to us for a number of reasons. Research indicates that outcomes for students with disabilities are not as positive as for their non-disabled peers. Special education costs are high and students are not eligible for services unless their performance is significantly below age and grade expectations. As such, special education has been a wait to fail model. Since 2007, Maine has required clearer criteria in the identification of students with learning and speech/language disabilities. This has been a factor in helping us to reduce our identification rates in the December 2009 child count to 14.9% at the CSD and to 16.5% at the SAD. We are working to reduce our special education prevalence rate to 9-12%. Due to fewer students being served through our special education department, we have reduced personnel at the SAD. We continue to examine staff to student ratios, seeking to balance appropriate supports while advancing our goal for every student to achieve independence, competence, and self-reliance to the greatest extent possible. While we are still in the budget process, we expect to reduce special education administration by 16% and overall, special education costs will be cut at least 9% at both the SAD and CSD.
The special education department welcomes the Response to Intervention (RTI) model as a pro-active approach to identify students’ needs and provide targeted interventions through regular education before a child experiences failure and requires more intensive special education services. Several times a year, all students are assessed using curriculum-based measures (CBMs) in reading and math. This data provides timely information about students who may require interventions to close skill deficits. We anticipate this regular education initiative will contribute to further reductions in special education numbers. In fact, referrals to special education from CRES, where the district has begun to implement an RTI program, are down to four compared to twelve at this time last year.
An on going frustration for local and state education budgets is the failure of the federal government to “fully fund” special education at 40% of the national per pupil average. The proposed Federal contribution toward meeting the excess cost of special education is about 17 percent of the national average per pupil expenditure and provide an estimated average of $1,750 per student for about 6.7 million children ages 3 through 21. Due to penalties, debt service and cuts in state subsidies, we anticipate that only a fraction of the costs for mandated special education programs and services will be covered by state monies. In previous years, we have received reimbursements from Medicaid to cover some of the costs for related services such as behavioral supports, speech, occupational, and physical therapies. The Medicaid billing mechanism for school based services is undergoing major changes and it remains to be seen how much the CSD and SAD will receive under the new system. The school boards, administration, and staff of the CSD and SAD remain committed to providing quality programs for students with exceptionalities. We greatly appreciate input from the public on the budget process, and your interest in maintaining responsive and appropriate special education programs for our students.
J. Gove, March 2010