Thursday February 11, 2016
During the school board’s recently completed budget development process, one item of continual discussion has been the rising number of proposed FTE (full time equivalent) positions despite declining enrollment. This is a trend that has been continuing statewide and is proving to be a tough nut to crack, especially when state and federal mandates require districts to provide a certain level of service to all students.
Special education services are mandated by federal legislation, through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which provides federal aid to states to ensure free and appropriate education; which means specially designed instruction to meet unique needs of children that cannot be provided by standard education.
In addition to the federal standards, the district must comply with Vermont’s Act 117, which is designed to strengthen the capacity of the state’s educational system to meet the needs of all students. It says that each school must identify, monitor, and provide a range of supports and remedial services including instructional and behavioral interventions and accommodations.
A good portion of the FTEs being proposed in the FY ‘17 budget address the needs of special education students. A seven-year trend analysis provided by Superintendent David Young indicated there has been a growing need for ELL (English language learner) and special education services.
From FY 2011 to FY 2017, the net gain of teachers, excluding ELL and special education, has been 1.37 while special education and ELL teachers and paraeducators have seen a net increase of 16.43 over the same period. Joanne Godek, director of Educational Support Systems, said she is seeing a growing need in the areas of serving students with autism, emotional disturbances, and other health impairments, while a downward trend has been seen in speech language delay, specific learning disabilities, and developmental delays.
Godek’s PowerPoint presentation, at the January 20 school board meeting, shed further light on special education programming in South Burlington, which uses a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS). The MTSS provides a continuum of services where all students are included to the maximum extent possible.
Comprehensive staffing is a key component of success for students involved in this programming. Currently, the district has 30 special educators, three early childhood special educators, five speech language pathologists, three early childhood speech pathologists, and 70.5 paraeducators serving students across five schools. As of December 1, 2015, there were 273 children receiving special education in the district from age 3-21. The educational support system also serves students on 504 plans and educational support plans. The district serves 110 students on 504 plans and 153 students on education support team (EST) plans. The term “504” refers to section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974, which is a civil rights law designed to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability and assures accommodations are made to the educational curriculum.
The staffing increases necessary to support these students have occurred as enrollment has gone down by 58 students and tuition student enrollment has increased by the same number over this seven year time period. While School Board Chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald expressed concern in this trend, Young said the district has a responsibility to respond to the needs of its students.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent