More spe­cial ed staff would cost $1 mil­lion

Caseloads are ‘higher than what I’m com­fort­able with,’ Bailey says

The Enterprise - - Front Page - By JAC­QUI ATKIELSKI jatkiel­ski@somd­news.com

It would cost an es­ti­mated $1 mil­lion to fund up to 20 more spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion staff po­si­tions po­ten­tially needed at St. Mary’s pub­lic schools, ac­cord­ing to the school sys­tem’s su­per­in­ten­dent.

Prior to vot­ing on this school year’s spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion staff plan, St. Mary’s school board mem­bers agreed at a meet­ing on Wed­nes­day that more teach­ers and other staff could be needed to ac­com­mo­date the grow­ing num­ber of stu­dents who re­quire those ser­vices.

An av­er­age of one spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion re­source teacher is avail­able for ev­ery 200 gen­eral ed­u­ca­tion ele­men­tary stu­dents, Su­san Fowler, pub­lic schools’ di­rec­tor of spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion said at the board meet­ing. At the mid­dle school level, the av­er­age is one re­source teacher to 150 gen­eral ed­u­ca­tion stu­dents, and back up to one teacher per 200 gen­eral ed­u­ca­tion stu­dents at the high schools, she con­tin­ued.

Fowler said Thurs­day the of­fi­cial count of stu­dents need­ing spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion and the in­ten­sity of their in­struc­tion has yet to be de­ter­mined. She said school staff should have that in­for­ma­tion by early Oc­to­ber as bud­get work be­gins for fis­cal year 2019, adding that “it’s un­pre­dictable” to de­ter­mine how many more spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion staff are needed at this point.

Board mem­ber Rita Weaver asked why the ra­tio of stu­dents to teach­ers at the high schools isn’t lower be­cause “the stu­dents are get­ting ready to grad­u­ate.”

As stu­dents progress to high school, “the ra­tio works out,” Fowler said.

School staff have rec­og­nized

sup­port­ing spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion needs at the mid­dle school level is “its own lit­tle an­i­mal that re­quired wran­gling,” Fowler con­tin­ued.

“It would be great to lower [the ra­tio] for all of them,” she said.

Us­ing 2016-2017 school year data, Fowler said each spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion teacher has an av­er­age caseload of 18 stu­dents at the ele­men­tary level, and 15 stu­dents at the sec­on­dar y school. Many teach­ers have a lower caseload, and the di­rec­tor said she hasn’t had the chance to cal­cu­late the av­er­ages for this year yet be­cause stu­dents are still get­ting set­tled into pro­grams.

Oc­cu­pa­tional and phys­i­cal ther­a­pists have av­er­age caseloads rang­ing from 30 to 50 stu­dents, Fowler said. Spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion re­gional staf fing al­lows for one teacher and one parae­d­u­a­tor for ev­ery nine stu­dents for pro­grams such as the Learn­ing Ad­just­ment Pro­gram, also known as LAP, the Sup­port­ing Aca­demics and In­de­pen­dent Liv­ing pro­gram, or SAIL, and a teacher and parae­d­u­ca­tor for ev­ery five stu­dent in the Com­mu­nity Pro­mot­ing Aca­demic and So­cial Suc­cess pro­gram, or COM­PASS, she said.

School board chair Karin Bailey said “the caseload [av­er­age] is higher than what I’m com­fort­able with.” She said as more stu­dents are iden­ti­fied as hav­ing spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion needs, staff would “have to con­sider the needs of other stu­dents” as well.

“Thank you for preach­ing to the choir,” Fowler said to Bailey.

Su­per­in­ten­dent Scott Smith said ask­ing for an in­crease in spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion staff fund­ing would be sup­ported by the school board. On­go­ing dis­cus­sion would need to oc­cur dur­ing next year’s bud­get process to ac­com­mo­date the es­ti­mated $1 mil­lion it would take to bring in “five, 10, 15, 20” more spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion teach­ers, he said.

Th e av­er­age caseload in St. Mary’s County isn’t “be­yond na­tional av­er­ages,” the su­per­in­ten­dent said.

“We’re not at a cri­sis level,” Smith con­tin­ued. “We’re giv­ing the best ser­vice we can pro­vide with the dol­lars that we have.”

Board mem­ber Cathy Allen said the spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion pop­u­la­tion is grow­ing due to the “greater num­ber of stu­dents be­ing iden­ti­fied [and the schools’] abil­ity to sup­port them.”

Fowler said about 10 per­cent of the more than 18,000 stu­dents in St. Mary’s pub­lic schools re­quire some kind of spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion ser­vice.

Spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion staff are re­spon­si­ble for as­sess- ing if stu­dents re­quire spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion path­ways and to com­mu­ni­cate with fam­i­lies, Fowler said. Some parae­d­u­ca­tors may take on more rou­tine du­ties such as fill­ing out pa­per­work and meet­ing with fam­i­lies after on-the­job train­ing, she said.

Ac­cord­ing to fis­cal 2018 bud­get doc­u­ments, about $18.9 mil­lion in state and lo­cal fund­ing has been bud­geted for spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion, with $15.7 mil­lion go­ing to salaries and wages, $899,576 go­ing to con­tracted ser­vices such as oc­cu­pa­tional and phys­i­cal ther­a­pists, and $70,321 for sup­plies and ma­te­ri­als. Of the ap­prox­i­mate 287 spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion staff, about 144 are teach­ers and 103 are parae­d­u­ca­tors.

An­other 54 po­si­tions are funded through $5 mil­lion in grants. About $2.1 mil­lion is des­ig­nated for send­ing stu­dents to pri­vate school and out-of-county place­ments.

Weaver

Allen

Bailey

Smith

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