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Oakland, ME: Big increase in behavioral needs in school budget

April 1, 2017, Special education, behavioral services drive RSU 18 budget increase The Oakland-based district's proposed 3.2 percent budget increase reflects a steadily growing need for such services. … One of the largest increases in the budget is for behavioral programs. Without those changes, the increase would be in the 2 percent range, Smith said. Children fall along a spectrum when it comes to learning, according to Smith. While some require little to no support to do well, others require much more — though not all for the same reasons. “If you are a special education student with an IEP (Individualized Education Program), there is a prescribed plan,” Smith said. “But there are some kiddos who kind of fall in this middle.” Some students have behavioral problems or learning challenges “for a host of reasons that do not qualify, technically, for support, but very much need support,” he said. In a continued effort to address the increased need for support for these children, this proposed budget includes a behavioral program position at Messalonskee Middle School. …. Smith said he anticipates “there will be requests for more of this type of support.” Over the past few years, the district also has increased its special education staff in each elementary school…. The district has seen a general increase in the percentage of students who require special education support since 2010, with one small dip. In 2010, there were 445 students receiving special education support out of 3,257 total students, or 13.7 percent. In 2016, there were 480 students out of 2,892, or 16.6 percent. While RSU 18 was below the overall state percentage of students who qualified for special education, it is now on par with the state average. The number of students who require special education has increased in Maine as a whole over the past few years. In the 2010-2011 school year, 15.6 percent of the state’s student population had diagnosed disabilities, which steadily rose to 16.7 percent by the 2015-2016 school year. Cheryl Mercier, director of special education services for the district, said that the type of problems that children are dealing with now are different. In the past, special education teachers might have mostly taught children with learning disabilities; now more children are on the autism spectrum or are diagnosed with anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. Mercier said district officials don’t know why there has been an increase in special education students, but she and others stressed that getting an IEP, a plan designed for each special education student, is a long process and not a quick diagnosis.

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