The Pupil Services section of the School District working budget for 2018 is $3,469,466, an increase of $126,412 over FY 17. While board members pressed her to look for economies, Pupil Services Director Kimberly Carpinone said there weren’t many places to look.
Carpinone presented her working budget in a budget session Tuesday, Dec. 13. She began by giving an overview of the five departments under the Pupil Services umbrella. In addition to Special Ed, these include nursing, children with 504 plans, English as a Second Language and homeless children protected under the McKinney-Vento Act.
Running the numbers
Federal IDEA money comes back to the district via the state and can offset the expenses from the general fund, Carpinone said. The department receives $1,042,000 for students 5 to 21 and $15,000 for the LEEP preschool program.
All the Federal money goes for staffing, she said, and represents 12 percent of the Pupil Services budget.
Carpinone said that Londonderry is responsible for educating more than 100 children on the autism spectrum and more than 70 with emotional or behavioral disorders, both of which are above the state average. She has also seen an increase in children with vision problems, deaf/hard of hearing students, and ESOL, with 26 Londonderry students not having English as their primary language and speaking nine different languages at home. She has also seen an increase in children requiring one-on-one nursing services, from two to three, she said.
Another 225 require accommodations through the 504 program, she said.
Many special ed children require a self-contained classroom, she said, including 16 percent of Londonderry elementary students, 23 percent of middle school students and 35 percent of high school students.
In 12 years of providing in-house special ed, the district has saved $77.8 million, according to Carpinone, and is on target to save $9.3 million in FY 18.
The LEEP (Londonderry Early Education Program) is also on the rise, with 108 children registered when school started in August compared to 122 on Dec. 13. “We have 18 more in process, including referrals, testing and IEP development,” Carpinone told the board.
And since July 1, the new fiscal year, she has welcomed 52 new students with IEPs to the district, she said.
Though the district has brought several programs “home” and has seen a cost avoidance, some students still require or want out-of-district placement, Carpinone said. These include court-ordered placement, students with needs who move into the district, and charter school students. “We have 30 students currently out-of-district,” she said, and that could change at any moment; “It’s a volatile population,” Carpinone said.
Board member Leitha Reilly asked for clarification on the out-of-district students. She wondered if Carpinone were responsible for all charter school students, or just the ones with special needs. Carpinone said she is responsible for providing services to Londonderry charter school students with IEPs, while the charter school is responsible for providing the accommodations for 504 students.
Going Into Detail
Carpinone has asked for an increase in the line for services to the deaf and hard of hearing, from $20,000 to $92,000, based on an increase in students in this population. Certified teachers for these needs and for the visually impaired are hard to find, so these services must be contracted out, she said.
She is requesting new furniture and equipment for the preschool. Current pieces are showing “wear and tear,” Carpinone said.
She is also asking the district to consider adding a bus and monitor, noting that she doesn’t want LEEP children to be on a bus for 45 minutes. The cost would be $40,000 for the bus and driver and $19,800 for the monitor, she said.
She is anticipating some savings as she has reconfigured the busing for Extended School Year, the summer program, cutting back to four longer days and eliminating Friday. “The kids were happy about that,” she said.
She is also anticipating savings in the cost for older students who are transitioning out of the Londonderry system, at ages 19 and 20. “That population is decreasing,” she said.
Revenues include Medicaid reimbursement and Catastrophic Aid, which kicks in after a student’s expenses reach a certain point, Carpinone said.
Elephant in room
Board member Leitha Reilly observed, “Every one of these groups in Pupil Services is covered by law. You don’t have a lot of wiggle room.”
But Reilly noted that people often stop her in the supermarket to ask about the high cost of education, and particularly special ed. “Where are some areas you can find economies that the government cannot dictate?” she asked. “Can you be creative, and provide the same level of service?”
“I do say ‘no,'” Carpinone responded. “My staff can testify to that. Some parents ask for services that are not covered by FAPE (Free and Appropriate Public Education), and I say no then.”
Items in her working budget that are not mandated by the Feds include the LEEP furniture and the new bus. “I made a philosophical choice with the bus,” she said. And she’s concerned about LEEP children being injured by older furniture and equipment, she added.
“Londonderry does an excellent job of educating its special needs students, and the testimony to that is the increasing number,” member Jenn Ganem said.
Board chair Nancy Hendricks is also stopped in the grocery store. “I hear a lot — it’s an enormous budget,” she said. “Sometimes it sounds like we’re pitting regular education against special education.”
Parents will say things like, “How come you’re not spending $80,00 on my kid?” Hendricks mused. It’s because “their kid” doesn’t need it, she added, but “the sentiment is out there, whether or not you agree with it.”
While acknowledging that Carpinone is “ferocious” about cutting costs, Hendricks urged her to wield the red pencil one more time.
But Hendricks added, “We have a moral obligation to these children.”