School Fiscal Advisory Hears Special Ed, Curriculum Costs

Craig Bulkley, a member of the Derry Cooperative School District Fiscal Advisory Committee, had several questions for Chris Kellan, Director of Special Services, during Kellan’s presentation Monday night. Bulkley wanted to know how much control the Derry District has over a child’s IEP (Individualized Education Program) when that child graduates from eighth grade and goes to Pinkerton Academy.

“Suppose Pinkerton thinks the child needs a psychiatrist and Derry thinks they need a psychologist,” Bulkley proposed. “Who wins?”

“I’m not sure anybody wins,” Kellan responded, with a rueful chuckle.

Special Education and curriculum were the focuses Monday night as Kellan and Assistant Superintendent MaryAnn Connors-Krikorian outlined their programs and budget requests for 2014-15. Kellan described his programs as, often, a “moving target,” while Connors-Krikorian proposed curriculum initiatives to make Derry children more competitive on a global stage.

Kellan reminded the board and committee that his purview is Special Education, “504” or rehabilitation students, and the homeless. Special Education includes children identified with disabilities from ages 3 to 21, though the district begins even earlier than that, he said, noting, “We are required to evaluate them from birth.”

Kellan showed a pie chart that distinguished 35 percent of his budget as salaries; 24 percent as Pinkerton Academy special education, an addition onto the regular tuition; 7 percent for Pinkerton educational assistants; 17 percent for out-of-district tuition; 5 percent for contracted services such as tutors; 8 percent for transportation; and 3 percent for the New England Center for Children (NECC) program, which serves elementary and middle-school students with autism. Kellan said the district pays a portion of the NECC expenses and the Federal government pays a portion.

He also said that $1.3 million of salaries are funded by Federal IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) money and not under the district budget.

Bulkley asked how Pinkerton tuition was arrived at. Kellan said each “identified” student was charged the regular education tuition, plus a special education fee dependent on what program the student attended – Resource, ACT (Alternative Comprehensive Training) or PASSES (Pinkerton Academy’s Special Services for Educational Success). “There are also some a la carte fees depending on the student’s need,” Kellan said.

Kellan did not ask for any money in the equipment line in last year’s budget, but this year he is requesting $15,000 for a Braille machine. “Our ‘Brailler’ is 40 years old and we bought it used,” he said.

Other projected expenses are as follows:

• Salaries, $5,464,000;

• Pinkerton Special Education tuition, $3,751,188;

• Special education aides, $1,100,000;

• NECC, $481,000;

• Contracted Services, $95,000;

• Out-of District, $2,625,000; and

• Transportation, $1,280,628.

Committee member Carl Accardo asked what the percentage of students with identified needs was and Kellan said it varies. The national average is 14 to 18 percent and New Hampshire falls within that range, he said. Derry has gone as low as 11 percent and as high as 19 percent and is high this year at 18 percent, he said.

“There have been a number of move-ins with significant needs,” he said. Five to eight moved into the district within the first few days of school, and they all require one-on-one assistance, he said.

Currently there are 1,007 identified students within the district. “We’ve been as high as 1,265 and 1,288, but that was when we had more students,” he said. “It changes by the hour.”

Kellan said he has a “good working relationship” with Pinkerton and its special education team.

Kellan reminded the board and committee that his department is not only responsible for students within the Derry Kindergarten-Grade 8 system and Derry students at Pinkerton, but students in private and charter schools as well. There are nine identified students at St. Thomas Aquinas School, and Derry has to provide their special services through the IDEA grant.

When Derry provides services they go to the school where the child is, Kellan said, explaining that it isn’t time-effective to take the child out of class, bring them to Derry and take them back. So Derry staff travel to the Granite State Arts Academy, Birches Academy in Salem, or wherever the Derry child is attending.

Kellan said when he became director in 1997, 90 Derry students were being educated out-of-district for their special needs. In the ensuing years, with the help of Pinkerton Academy and programs like NECC, the number has been cut to 26, he said.

The projected cost for Pinkerton special education for 2015-16 is Resource, $2.1 million; PASSES, $723,000; and ACT, $927,000. The estimated increase overall is $914,000.

Superintendent Laura Nelson said she met with Pinkerton Headmaster Griffin Morse and other superintendents and said Morse had advised a working figure of a 4 percent increase.

Kellan said it is hard to predict what special education will cost because he doesn’t know the intensity of each new student’s needs. But it isn’t going away, he said, noting that currently one in every 60 students nationally falls on the autism spectrum. And special services for special needs are on the rise, he added.

“We used to spend $30 an hour on speech therapy from an agency,” he said. “Now speech services from an agency – it’s not unusual to see $87 an hour.”

Connors-Krikorian followed with a report on curriculum. Her requests are aligned with Goal 1 of the Strategic Plan, she said, which calls for every child in K-12 learning at a high level and the district providing a “rigorous curriculum” in line with the Common Core Standards.

Connors-Krikorian is requesting $5,000 for speakers and consultants to drill teachers in how to do competency-based performance assessments in Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies. This needs to be in place by July 2015, she said.

She is piloting two math programs in grades K-5, enVision and GoMath. enVision is estimated at $3,700 and GoMath at $2,800. But Connors-Krikorian added that with enVision, she is getting the initial materials free and using the $3,700 to hire substitute teachers so the classroom teachers can be trained in enVision during the school day.

“Is that a response to the parents’ frustration at all the early release days?” member Brenda Willis asked.

Connors-Krikorian said that was a factor.

She has been piloting a program called Glencoe in the middle schools for two years and wants to add one called Big Ideas, which would cost $4,000 for pilots for each middle school. She said the district is required to make a decision by March.

She is anticipating curriculum revision in several disciplines and has $18,000 in her working budget to pay teachers for summer curriculum work, which is too intensive to be done during the school year, she said. She is also looking for more professional development funds for Readers Workshop, the balanced literacy approach to reading.

“It’s what they need to be ‘diploma-ready,’” Connors-Krikorian said of the curriculum.