Parent Asks About Special Ed Priorities: Cost or Achievement Gap?

Patty Harwood, a chairwoman of EG’s Special Education Advisory Committee, addressed the School Committee during public comment last Tuesday (in video above, her comment begins at 3:10), seeking more information about a special education “audit” referred to by the Town Council at its meeting July 24. She also decried the apparent rush to lower special education spending as outlined in the agreement signed with interim school Finance Director Linda Dykeman.

“It seems ill timed to be bringing this kind of stuff up having no director of student services,” said Harwood. Brad Wilson, EG’s former director of student services,  resigned in May to take a job in Coventry. “I’m very concerned who could speak to the details of what the costs of the special budget are and which students might be impacted by any imposted cuts,” she said.  “I was disheartened to hear that the priority for special ed was to target budget cuts rather than to address the staggering achievement gap that continues to exist for students with IEPs.”

In particular, Harwood was referring to the letter of agreement between Dykeman and the school department that includes this bullet point:

“Work with Superintendent and Director of Pupil Personnel [sic] to lower SPED costs (high cost SPED reimbursement analysis, billing review).”

“We’ve really lost sight of the strategic plan that was worked on, painstakingly worked on and crafted. I just don’t see that anyone is really looking at curriculum,” she said. “I’m feeling a sense of panic for our students who struggle and I’m really feeling we’re getting off course. It’s frightening for parents.”

Supt. Victor Mercurio said he and the School Committee were in the process of interviewing candidates for the special ed director position.

As for the audit, it is a RIDE (state Department of Education) requirement, he said, that takes place every few years. It will take place in April 2018.

“The first step is to have a director of student services in place and then go from there,” he said. “The work we do as a district has to first and foremost meet the needs of the students.”

[Added after original posting: The RIDE audit is known as a School Support Visit and it results in a “System Report and Support Plan.”]

Mercurio said the sentence in Dykeman’s employment agreement had to do with Medicaid reimbursements – some special education students have Medicaid benefits and some school-supplied services can be billed to Medicaid.

He said the issue was, “Are we getting as much as we could there?”

In May, Providence Analytics – made up of now-Town Manager Gayle Corrigan and now-Finance Director Linda Dykeman – had looked at special education spending over a four-year average and called for cutting the fiscal year 2018 special ed budget. The Town Council has promised to give more money to the schools if special education costs exceed that lower number.

– Elizabeth F. McNamara

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