County school sys­tem sees in­creases in spe­cial ed., English learner pop­u­la­tions

Num­bers ex­pected to sur­pass cur­rent fund­ing model

Maryland Independent - - News - By JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @JamieACIndyNews

The num­bers of English lan­guage learner (ELL) and spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion stu­dents are in­creas­ing, and Charles County Pub­lic Schools must plan for the ad­di­tional fund­ing needed to ed­u­cate th­ese stu­dents.

Deputy Su­per­in­ten­dent Amy Holl­stein, Kim­berly Watts, world lan­guag- es spe­cial­ist, and Ar­den So­tomayor, di­rec­tor of spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion, gave a pre­sen­ta­tion to the school board on spe­cial pop­u­la­tions dur­ing its Nov. 8 meet­ing.

Holl­stein said that in the past five years the num- ber of spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion stu­dents in the school sys- tem has in­creased by ap­prox­i­mately 600 stu­dents.

“This year alone, we have had an ap­prox­i­mately 200 stu­dent in­crease,” Holl­stein said.

Costs range from $14,699 per stu­dent for those re­ceiv­ing spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion ser­vices within the gen­eral ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram to $42,296 per stu­dent for those with sig­nif­i­cant cog­ni­tive chal- lenges and health needs, So­tomayor said.

So­tomayor said that stu­dents in the for­mer cat­e­gory have ac­tu­ally de­creased slightly, but stu­dents need­ing more in­ten­sive ser­vices have in­creased sig­nif­i­cantly.

Holl­stein said the in­crease ap­pears to be due in large part to stu­dents in need of in­ten­sive ser­vices and al­ready pos­sess­ing in­di­vid­u­al­ized ed­u­ca­tion plans, or IEPs, from other places re­lo­cat­ing to Charles County.

“We need the pub­lic to un­der­stand that when a stu­dent shows up and en­rolls and needs a re­source we don’t cur­rently have, we have to pro­vide that,” Holl­stein said. “We’re talk­ing about chil­dren. We can’t just look at the bot­tom line.”

The num­ber of ELL stu­dents has also in­creased, more than dou­bling over the past five years. While the per­cent­age of ELL stu­dents con­tin­ues to be low — 2 per­cent — com- pared with the rest of the state, which av­er­ages 7.6 per­cent, the num­ber of Charles County ELL stu- dents is ex­pected to in­crease ap­prox­i­mately 19 per­cent per year, Watts said.

“Last school year, 2015 to ’16, the state of Mary- land iden­ti­fied Charles County as the county with the largest in­crease of ELL stu­dents in the state,” Holl­stein said.

Part of the rea­son, Holl- stein said, is the prox­im­ity to Prince Ge­orge’s County, which is 16.6 per­cent ELL stu­dents.

“Due to lim­ited Ti­tle III grant funds for ser- vices and pro­gram cost in­creases, there will be a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact in gen­eral fund op­er­at­ing bud­get ex­pen­di­tures,” Watts said. “So, in the fu­ture, to con­tinue to meet the needs of Ti­tle III com­pli­ance and the in­struc­tional goals of the Ti­tle III pro­gram, at min­i­mum, we’ll need to al­lo­cate ad­di­tional fund­ing for pro­gram­matic and in­struc­tional sup­port, as well as staffing. And al­though ELLs make up only 2 per­cent of our to­tal stu­dent pop­u­la­tion … it con­tin­ues to con­cern me, the growth po­ten­tial we’ve seen over the past two years and our prox­im­ity to Prince Ge­orge’s County.”

The school sys­tem cur­rently spends ap­prox­i­mately $41 mil­lion from the gen­eral fund to ed­u­cate spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion stu­dents, and ap­prox­i­mately $6.5 mil­lion in re­stricted funds, such as grants, said Randy So­tomayor, as­sis­tant su­per­in­ten­dent for busi­ness and fi­nance.

“Over the past three years or four years, we’ve tried to ab­sorb the costs of ed­u­cat­ing stu­dents with spe­cial needs, and we feel like with Mr. So­tomayor’s ex­per­tise, and Mr. Balides prior to him, that we’ve been able to do that,” Su­per­in­ten­dent Kim­berly Hill said. “But we’re at a point, be­cause of those pop­u­la­tions ris­ing at a rapid pace, that we are no longer able to sus­tain the sup­ports that are re­quired to pro­vide within the pa­ram­e­ters of our cur­rent op­er­at­ing bud­get.”

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