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Windsor, Cal: SPED costs up; MORE 'autism and severe social-emotional issues'…

Oct 24, 2019, Sebastopol, CA, Sonoma West: Increased special ed needs pose challenges http://www.sonomawest.com/the_windsor_times/news/increased-special-ed-needs-pose-challenges/article_063f8938-f69e-11e9-bc4c-37d109f04266.html Like most districts faced with budget issues and the inherent conflict between serving students with special needs and the cost for doing so, Windsor has struggled to keep pace with the changing landscape. At the Oct. 15 meeting of the Windsor Unified School District Board of Trustees, Director of Special Education Kathryn Hill presented the annual report on special education in the district. Special ed continues to be a significant issue for most districts, with costs skyrocketing and enrollment increasing. The top priorities for special education in the district include increasing the number of students being served in local, district schools; serving students in their “Least Restrictive Environment” (in other words, the goal is to have the students in mainstream environments as much as possible); improving the quality of in-district continuum services; and reducing the number of students that require special education services. The most expensive option for educating special ed students is when they have to be placed in non-public school and/or residential programs, and the district has made it a priority to transition as many of those students back into the district as possible. As a result of these efforts, Windsor has one of the lowest rates of students being referred to programs from the Sonoma County Office of Education, with only 1.5 students being placed there in the 2019-20 school year (the 0.5 student is split costs with the Bellevue School District as the student lives in both places due to a divorce). This is compared to 11 from Healdsburg and 14 from Cloverdale, both of which are smaller districts. The 1.5 students constitute an annual cost of $71,625 to the district. “Serving our students locally means constantly assessing students in our non-public school placements and seeing if we can bring them back to the district and serve them in our schools,” Hill said. “We’ve made more options for students within the district, including students that have behavioral challenges, and we have added a special day class program to better serve the needs of students. We’ve also added more behaviorist time to help those students and a lot of staff training around students with autism and severe social-emotional issues.”… Despite these advances, the district has not seen as much cost savings as hoped, and Hill believes this is due to the following reasons: increasing numbers of students with special needs, an increased need for social/emotional/behavioral support, the initial costs of building more in district capacity, the costs to train new teachers (retention is a huge issue in special education), and increasing costs for non public school programs and legal fees. “I’m not sure if you are aware that across the nation we are seeing more ADHD, mental health issues and autism. Enrollment is dropping but special ed numbers are not dropping proportionally,” Hill said. …