Special education teachers funded

Balto. County executive's decision relieves parents

April 12, 2001|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger announced yesterday that he intends to spend nearly $5 million during the next fiscal year to hire 49 special education teachers and 114 instructional aides - positions the public school system says are needed to meet growing demand.

Parents greeted the news with relief. Some had believed that special education would get a smaller slice of county funds after Ruppersberger asked the Board of Education to cut $20 million from a proposed $803 million budget.

They were happy to be wrong, especially in light of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's decision not to increase special education funding in next year's state budget. Adequate funding for special education has also been an issue at the federal level. President Bush has proposed a $1 billion increase next year, a figure that some in Congress say is too low.

In Baltimore County, advocates seem to have made their point with data showing that the number of special education students has increased by 200 in the past two years and stands at 13,270 in a student population of 107,000.

"What [county officials] are finally understanding is the ripple effect that a lack of funding for special education can have throughout the school system," said Teresa K. LaMaster, chairwoman of the Citizen's Advisory Committee for Special Education, who applauded Ruppersberger for supporting school Superintendent Joe A. Hairston's request.

Hairston asked for $94 million in special education funding in his proposed spending plan for the 2001-2002 school year. Ruppersberger, who will present his budget proposal to the County Council on Monday, said he felt obligated to fund that request.

"The federal government tells us to do it and doesn't give us the money to do it," he said, adding that special education funding is a popular issue among members of the National Association of Counties, a group to which he belongs.

Although the school system will likely get the money it requested for special education, Ruppersberger made at least one change after speaking with school officials, said county spokeswoman Elise Armacost.

Instead of setting aside money to hire 53 special education teachers and five speech pathologists, Ruppersberger is seeking funding for 49 teaching positions and one speech pathologist. Instead of 96 instructional aides, he wants 114.

The reason for the change is simple - it's easier to find instructional aides. "Everyone agrees there's not an overabundance of special education teachers," said Armacost. "We decided we might have trouble filling the teacher positions."

Parents, in a recent letter to the county executive, stressed their belief that the county, state and federal governments have a legal obligation to ensure that special education is adequately funded.

Recent meetings and talks between parents and the county executive were never adversarial, LaMaster said. "It was a real collaborative effort," she said.

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