Budget Questions: Special Ed

by | May 9, 2024

The Town Council is considering the draft fiscal year 2025 budget right now and a couple of Town Council members Monday night had some questions about aspects of the school budget, which is controlled by the School Committee but relies for most of its funding on the town. Earlier this week, EG News sat down with Neil Marcaccio, who is in charge of student services, including special education for the district. We talked about certain elements of his budget that often prompt questions, particularly the money spent on students who end up going to school out of East Greenwich. 

The EG school district, by law, must provide a free and appropriate public education in the  least-restrictive environment for all students. Mostly, that’s done within the EG public schools, but some students and their parents opt for charter schools, or a program at another public high school that EGHS does not offer. In those cases, EGSD pays the tuition, which is the EGSD per pupil amount ($18,144 in 2022). 

Tuition for career and technical schools was budgeted at $335,000 this year and is budgeted at $416,000 for FY 2025. For charter school tuition, EG budgeted $138,000 this year and $155,000 next year. 

The more costly tuitions come from what’s known as “out-of-district” placements for students with an individualized education plan (IEP). This year, the district budgeted $1.33 million for these students; next year, the district is budgeting $1.45 million. Currently, there are 15 students in this category (out of 2,543 students total).

“The reason kids end up out of district is because school-based teams and the district as a whole cannot problem solve and mobilize enough services to meet the needs of the student,” said Marcaccio. One question Town Councilor Caryn Corenthal had Monday was why the district doesn’t hire staff so they could keep students in district. 

In some cases, they do, said Marcaccio. 

“We are providing some of that specialized multi-sensory approach to reading.… We wouldn’t send them to an out-of-district placement for a learning disability, necessarily, just based on the need for that multi-sensory service,” he said.

In other circumstances, Marcaccio said, “the individualized needs of kids are so diverse that it’s not as simple as hiring a teacher and saying, great, now we can put these six kids together. The kids that end up out of district typically need highly-specialized placements, often therapeutic. You wouldn’t be able to group them. In larger districts, they have programs in certain schools for very specific things…. They benefit from the economy of scale. We don’t have that advantage here.” 

Marcaccio said for some students, an in-district setting can be more restrictive than something that’s highly specialized. That’s because in those cases, the student would be isolated in-district whereas in an out-of-district placement, they could have more peer relationships. 

“We do do everything we can in-house. A lot of out-of-district placements are associated with extreme elements of very specific disabilities. But we try to support them here first,” he said. “When behavior issues are happening, we do a full behavioral analysis and build a highly specialized behavior improvement plan and typically implement that in several iterations.”

In the mental health arena, Marcaccio said he’s seen an “incredible” increase in the number of students who are hospitalized for mental health reasons. That requires the district to manage a student’s return to their home school – “to try to help avoid the cycle of the stress and pressure of school leading to a relapse. That’s why we’ve partnered this year with Thrive Community Health and we have an additional clinician at the high school.”

Marcaccio said the mental health component needs to be addressed universally.

“You can’t say this is something the family should be managing when it’s impeding the child’s access to their daily education,” he said. “We have to deal with it head on.” 

Noting that reality, Marcaccio said he wants to increase partnerships with mental health providers and try to have treatment go through third-party billing, so the entire cost doesn’t fall on the school district. 

“We have to get creative,” he said.  

Marcaccio said in talking to colleagues in other districts, there’s been a big increase everywhere since Covid in the need for out-of-district placements. “I think we’re doing well relative to many districts, if not most, in our ability to create programming here for kids to keep them in their home schools,” he said.

The Town Council is holding a public hearing on the FY2025 budget Monday at 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall. They have until June 10 to approve a budget.

EG News will be talking to school officials about facilities upkeep – expect a story in coming days. If you have a question about any part of the town’s overall budget (which of course includes the schools), send it via email to [email protected]

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Nicole Bucka
Nicole Bucka
May 10, 2024 8:31 am

Regarding out-of-district placements, our RIDE compliance review from November 2022 indicates that we’re actually below the state average, with only 4.52% of our students in such placements compared to the state average of 4.93%. This data underscores that we’re not overusing this option.

EG Resident
EG Resident
May 10, 2024 2:30 pm
Reply to  Nicole Bucka

Why can’t the school district have the cost of mental health services? This is a new paradigm in healthcare that will be here to stay. Put a plan in place and present it to the school committee.


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