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School Board to Hear Budget Presentations on Staffing, Special Education

Special Education program finds ways to reduce costs; staffing proposal includes 9.7 new positions.

The Farmington Board of Education will discuss two major factors in the 2013-14 school budget tonight at 7 p.m. in the Farmington High School library. The board will hear presentations on the districts’ preliminary special education budget from Dr. Laurie Singer, director of special services, and a preliminary staffing proposal from Assistant Superintendent Kim Wynn.

Plans to Lower Costs by Keeping Kids in District

Farmington schools have seen an increase of special needs students in the past several years, according to a presentation in the meeting agenda, from 390 in 2006-07, up to 429 this past year.

But though special needs students are few compared to the district’s total enrollment (4,014 for current year), the cost, due to student need and state mandates, is high. In 2011-12, Farmington spent $10,879,053 on special education. 

A majority of the special needs students (19 percent) have been labeled as on the autism spectrum. To serve those students (83 for 2012-13), the district has created the Specialized Learning Center with classrooms at West District and Union School. The SLC offers services from special education teachers, speech and language pathologists, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, occupational and physical therapists, with support from paraprofessionals.

An increase in students identified on the spectrum in the district’s preschool has prompted the creation of an SLC for preschool students using existing faculty. 

Several students in the SLC have aged out of the elementary program and must be transferred to West Woods, the presentation notes.

At previous meetings, Singer has said that while autism diagnoses constitute a large portion of the special needs students in the district ( %), a larger number of children are being labeled as emotionally disturbed. Emotionally disturbed students can be disruptive to the classroom environment and make up the largest percentage (38 percent) of students who are outplaced, or sent out of the district for services.

Singer writes that students with emotional disturbances require “interventions imbedded in the academic day. Interventions may consist of processing time with therapists, time out space, sensory breaks, or consequences within a leveled behavioral system. This type of specialized programming requires staff have background and training with this population.”

But in her short tenure with the Farmington schools, Superintendent Kathleen Greider has praised Singer for finding innovative ways to better serve students and save considerable money by creating programs to keep kids in the district. Among her proposals for the upcoming year is creation of a program at Farmington High School to serve students with emotional difficulties.

Tuition and busing for outplaced students are huge drivers of the special education budget. Singer proposes to reduce the tuition paid by the district from $1,540,581 for 2012-13 to $1,385,433 for the upcoming year.

To compensate, Singer proposes an increase in special education staff in the district, adding one position at West Woods Upper Elementary School, one at Farmington High School as well as .4 speech and .5 social work positions, raising the total to 50.35 full time positions.

A Proposed Increase of 9.7 Teachers

Assistant Superintendent Kim Wynn will also present the proposal tonight for professional staffing across the district for the 3,976 students projected to be enrolled in 2013-14.

The proposal is a draft, subject to revision, and includes an increase of 9.7 full time positions across the district: 2.3 at FHS, 3.5 at West Woods, 2.9 in special education, 2 townwide that are targeted for math intervention and 2 unassigned.

Wynn proposes a reduction of one full time regular teaching position each from Noah Wallace, East Farms and West District elementary schools due to a decrease in enrollment. She does however add 2 full time positions as floating positions, which may be needed at the elementary school level due to volatile enrollment.

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