Special ed program revisions outlined

Recommendations made include changes in how students are classified

January 14, 1999|By E. B. Furgurson | E. B. Furgurson,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Anne Arundel public schools special education chief Colleen Wilson held an informational meeting for parents at school headquarters on Riva Road last night to explain potential widespread changes to the special education program.

Ten parents of the more than 10,000 students receiving special education services attended.

On Tuesday night, no parents showed up for a similar hearing at the Old Mill High School auditorium. The only people present were two staffers from the Board of Education, District 2 Councilman Daniel E. Klosterman, District 1 Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle and two reporters.

Wilson nevertheless went through her recommendations from an audit of the special education program completed last fall. They include systemwide changes in policy, management and organization.

Klosterman said Tuesday the question is whether the county is getting a good enough return on what it spends.

"Something like 43 percent of our total budget goes to the schools, and we are not getting what you need out of it," he said.

Auditors concluded that much of the recent increase in special education enrollment, up 27 percent since 1993, resulted from the inclusion of children whose real problem is that they are not learning to read.

They recommended more centralized control of student referrals to special education, and development of regular classroom programs to help students lagging in reading.

Wilson said a 25-member implementation team will suggest the best ways of putting those recommendations into practice in a report to the board March 1.

Fourteen percent of Anne Arundel students receive special education services, making the county sixth in the state in percentage of special education students, according to a 1997 Maryland State Department of Education census. Baltimore City schools top the state in that category, with nearly 18 percent of students receiving special education services.

The program budget accounts for 11 percent of the $454 million earmarked for Anne Arundel schools this year. This compares with the 11.8 percent Montgomery County sets aside for special education out of its $1.38 billion school budget.

According to the audit report Anne Arundel spends $4,853 per special education student, 14 percent below peer counties, which average $5,386. Prince George's and Montgomery counties spend $7,380 and $7,419 per student, respectively.

School districts across the state are experiencing similar situations with special education enrollment, the auditors reported, because more and more students who fall behind are labeled as having learning problems. From 1992 to 1997 only four counties experienced a decline in special education enrollment.

The services provided range from accommodations in the regular classroom to placement in full-time residential facilities for the most seriously disabled.

The county spends $11 million sending students outside the school system.

Pub Date: 1/14/99

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