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Greenwich, CT: Will SPED numbers continue to climb? 'Absolutely'

Jan 31, 2024, Greenwich (CT) Times: Greenwich's special education population is spiking: 'Do we expect this to continue? Absolutely.’

Legislative changes and an increase in students means special education has become a primary budget driver for Greenwich Public Schools' 2024-25 operating budget. 

The Board of Education-approved $192.6 million spending plan is 5.6 percent more than the current $182.3 million budget. Along with substitute pay and rising utility prices, special education — a program that is seeing a rise in students —  is behind much of the increase, administrators said. 

Superintendent Toni Jones said at the Board of Estimate and Taxation Budget Committee presentation last week that GPS is up 189 special education students from October 2019 to October 2023. 

"We've gone from a 10 percent special education population to now 14 (percent)," Jones said.

"Do we expect this to continue? Absolutely." 
While the state average for a school district's special education population is 17 percent, "some of our colleagues just up the road are at 18 and 19 (percent)," she said.

Just for one point of reference, for every 15 to 24 students we add, we need a special education teacher," Jones said. "That's a caseload. And some of those children also need speech services, psychological services — and the more students that we test, the more psychologists we have to have to do that testing to meet those federal deadlines and timelines." 

Blaize Levitan, chief operating officer for the district, said during the presentation that the state has made three legislative age changes "back to back to back" for special education, effective July 1, 2023. 

"It was 21 for services, it was the day of the 22nd birthday and now it is the school year in which they turn 22, the full school year," Levitan said.

Said Board of Education Chair Karen Kowalski, "We are now providing services to children longer and those are our kids that require special needs," all costs borne by the district without any state or federal funding relief.

Levitan said that since the recent legislative change was effective for the 2023-24 school year, the district needed more funding to provide services for students longer. That was the primary reason the district asked for around $2.5 million in interim funding in October for the special education program, he said. 

With both the operating and capital budgets approved by the school board, funding is now in the hands of the Board of Estimate and Taxation, which is expected to make its decision March 27 during its annual "Decision Day." 


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