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Rockland, ME: Superintendent "has never seen so many children with such complex needs"

Updated: Dec 22, 2019

Dec 17, 2019, Knox Village Soup, Waldo County, ME: Soaring special education costs stalls leading decision The Rockland area school district brought in state and federal officials Thursday night to stress the urgency of dealing with the dramatic increase students needing special education services and the associated costs. "This is not a bubble, it's a tsunami that's going to crush us," RSU 13 superintendent John McDonald said at the Dec. 12 meeting held at the South School. Board member Tom Peaco of Rockland said the financial tsunami was "pretty staggering." He said it was not right to place such a financial burden on property owners. He said the district is being penalized by funding formulas for doing the right thing for all students. The target at the federal level is for the government to pay 40 percent of special education costs. The district is only receiving 16 percent. RSU 13 Board member Gerald Weinand said after the meeting if the district were to receive the 40 percent funding, RSU 13 would have likely receive an additional $1.5 million for the next budget. Weinand said there is a bill to provide full funding, and U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden are co-sponsors. He said, however, it appears the bill has little chance of passage because of the lack of support…. While RSU 13 individualized education program coordinator Larry Schooley said money is not the only answer, he said more services are needed for children younger than school age. …. He said when he ran a state program for pre-school children in need of services, there was not even enough money to serve all the children requiring help. RSU 13 Board Chair Loren Andrews said more money from the federal government would provide some relief…. "We need to address the root causes," Minikis said. Nearly one out of four students (382) in the district receive special education services. The 23.4 percent of the RSU 13 population that receives special education services far exceeds the state average of 17.7 percent and the national average of 14 percent. The district saw its special education budget skyrocket by $1.5 million last year. At the same time, the district ended up cutting 22 other education positions to offset the increase in special education expenses. Twelve employees lost their jobs in those cuts. RSU 13 Special Education Director Jessica Yates said there is both an increasing number of students requiring special education services but also increasingly complex needs. Superintendent John McDonald said factors associated with the increase are children experiencing trauma, generational poverty, and the opioid crisis. He said in his 25 years in education he has never seen so many children with such complex needs. He said the increase is seen statewide. … Yates said while the district can budget for the students it has, an unexpected enrollment of a student with significant needs can add $128,000 to the budget. Tuition at an outside facility can cost $60,000 a year with transportation equaling that amount. The future picture looks no brighter for the financial demands on the district. …


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