Chris Kellan, director of Student Services for the Derry Cooperative School District, has a new metaphor for funding his department. “It’s more of a snow globe,” he said, “than a crystal ball.”
It’s also more of a moving target as Kellan and his team adjust for children moving into town, sometimes between budget cycles. Children who need the additional help that Special Education provides.
Kellan presented his budget requests for 2016-17 in Monday’s Fiscal Advisory Committee meeting. Also presenting was Assistant Superintendent MaryAnn Connors-Krikorian, who spoke about upcoming curriculum needs.
Kellan’s working budget for 2016-17 is $17,087,157, an increase of $1,007,341 over 2015-16’s $16,079,815.
Kellan began with an overview of his program and a breakdown of costs. Salaries are projected at $5,730,226 and Out-Of-District Tuition at $2,950,000.
Kellan explained that the district also pays for Derry’s Pinkerton Academy Special Education students, with most being charged the regular education tuition plus whatever special needs services they require. Pinkerton’s ACT (Alternative Comprehensive Training) program has its own tuition matrix because it is a self-contained program, he explained.
The district is also responsible for paying the salaries of any Pinkerton educational assistants assigned to Derry children. The Pinkerton Special Education tuition is projected at $3,653,903, and the cost of the Educational Assistants at $1,200,000, he said, pointing to a pie chart on his PowerPoint.
The district and all public schools are under a Federal mandate to provide services for all children identified with special needs from the age of 3 to 21, he said. These services include Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Speech Therapy, nursing care, one-on-one assistants, services for children with hearing or vision problems, psychological services and transportation.
“There are 90 indicators that the district has to meet in order to ensure compli ance,” Kellan said.
Derry currently has 992 students identified with special needs, from preschool through grade 12, he said.
Kellan is proposing three new positions within the district for 2016-17. However, he said, they are not “new” positions but positions currently funded by the Federal IDEA (Individuals With Disabilities Education Act). One is currently teaching at Grinnell Elementary School and two are teaching in DEEP, the district-sponsored preschool. Kellan wants to move both positions into the regular special education budget and use the Federal funds to beef up the NECC (New England Center for Children) program for children on the autism spectrum.
Kellan explained that the district partners with NECC to offer the program at an elementary and middle-school level. There are currently five children in the DEEP – Derry Early Education Program – kindergarten who are eligible for NECC in first grade, and there are no open spots in the current NECC program.
“We need another NECC partner classroom,” Kellan said. “If we don’t have it by May, we will need to look at out-of-district placement for these students.”
“Could we do an NECC-type program on our own?” board chairman Dan McKenna asked.
Kellan doubted this in view of the specialized training the NECC staff undergoes. “Without the right person the program falls apart,” he said.
Fiscal Advisory member Craig Bulkley observed that the number of Derry students in Special Education spiked in ninth grade, from 74 to 112, at Pinkerton Academy. “They have identified 30 you haven’t been tracking?” he asked Kellan.
Kellan said the rise in identified students is typical of high school, not just Pinkerton. “In elementary school, due to its nature, the teachers were often able to better support these children and their issues were not identified,” he said.
Fiscal Advisory member Carl Accardo referred to the acronym FAAPE, “Free and Appropriate Public Education,” and asked, “What does ‘appropriate’ mean? Is that codified? Who determines what is ‘appropriate’?”
“Their IEP team,” Kellan responded.
Kellan reminded the board and Fiscal Committee of the “moving target” nature of his program. “A family moved into town last year after the budget was set, and it was recommended that their child be placed in the Boston Hagashi School at $200,000 a year. That was that,” he said.
Connors-Krikorian discussed the new math curriculum being piloted at the elementary schools. She and her team are looking at two programs, Envisions and Go Math. Envisions is estimated at $90 per pupil for a four-year cycle and $109 per pupil for a six-year cycle, with 13 days of professional development for teachers.
She used Go Math for a placeholder in her budget and said that is estimated at $21.38 per year per student for a five-year cycle, with two full days of professional development, for an initial estimated cost of $330,000. But she’s working with the vendors and got that down to $286,150, she added.
“This is probably not the final cost,” Connors-Krikorian said.
McKenna asked if it were feasible to split the implementation and do half the grades this year and half in the next budget cycle. Connors-Krikorian said she had already asked that of the vendors, and while they said they’ve never done it before, “anything’s possible.”
“Is there any way you could get a sense of which one is better?” Accardo asked.
“The teachers are driving this decision,” Connors-Krikorian responded. “They are rating the programs as to curriculum, instructional value and assessment.”
Is there “synergy” between these programs, the ones the other sending towns are using, and Pinkerton Academy’s math curriculum? Accardo asked.
Connors-Krikorian said both programs are aligned to the New Hampshire College and Career Standards and to Common Core.