Millions planned for special-ed sessions

Dueling state, city proposals would provide 90,000 hours of services.

September 08, 2005|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore school system is making plans to spend up to $10 million to give special-education students nearly 90,000 hours of makeup services they should have received last school year and over the summer.

The services, such as speech therapy and counseling, will be overseen by outside consultants. As the system struggles to eliminate a $58 million deficit by the end of this school year, school system chief executive officer Bonnie S. Copeland said the new expense is "grinding salt into the wounds."

"We'll have to look at taking from resources across the board in our budget, from regular classrooms, from transportation, from wherever we can find it," Copeland said last night.

School system officials have argued in court papers in recent days that even greater cuts will be needed if U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis requires the system to pay for the cost of a state plan to overhaul the city's special-education program. State officials say the burden should belong to the school system, which has not spent all the money it has received to serve students with disabilities.

Garbis presides over a 21-year-old special-education lawsuit. Lawyers for students with disabilities sued the state and school system over their clients' education, which they said was inadequate.

The system's failure to provide and document required services to special-education students last school year resulted in an Aug. 12 order from Garbis authorizing the state to manage eight school system departments, from finance to instruction, that affect special education.

School system officials have said that in many cases, services were provided but not documented. Still, they offered to provide extra therapy and counseling to thousands of students this summer to make up for the services lost. The system acknowledges now that most of those summer sessions did not occur.

In a report filed in court last week, the school system estimated that it owes special-education students 48,000 hours of speech and language therapy, 2,200 hours of psychology, 9,700 hours of occupational therapy, 1,500 hours of physical therapy, 18,000 hours of counseling and 10,000 hours of social work.

State officials said a low price for those services would be $75 an hour. With an estimated 89,400 hours of services to provide, that means the cost would be at least $6.7 million - before the cost of consultants who will oversee the operation, costing millions more.

The state and school system have submitted competing consultants' proposals to Garbis.

Under the state's proposal, favored by the students' lawyers, consultants would be paid $2 million just to oversee the delivery of services. The school system would need to scramble to find speech therapists and other service providers to work under the consultants.

Under the school system's proposal, consultants would be paid up to $10 million - depending on how many students sign up for makeup services - and would bring their own service providers.

"That's how we got into this problem to begin with, because we didn't have enough service providers," said Douglass Austin, the school system's chief of staff.

School system officials say paying for the makeup sessions is their responsibility. But they have asked Garbis to reconsider requiring the school system to cover the cost of the state managers being sent to oversee special education, which was initially estimated at $1.4 million a year. The system says the state is already spending more than that.

Copeland said managers' salaries are in some cases higher than planned. She said some of the five managers who have started work are "requesting furniture and laptop computers, bookcases, access to different kinds of phones, all of which were not included in the state's original proposal."

Carol Ann Baglin, assistant state superintendent for special education, said the managers asked for access to equipment that has been unused since the school system laid off hundreds of central office staff to reduce its deficit.

She said the salaries for most of the managers have not been made final.

The state's plan originally said the lead manager would earn $170,000 a year, including benefits, and the other managers would earn $150,000, including benefits. But the lead administrator, Harry T. Fogle, a former assistant superintendent in Carroll County, will make $165,000 a year - plus benefits. Other salaries were not available yesterday.

State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick last month named four members of Fogle's team. Yesterday, she announced that the number of managers will be cut from nine to eight because Gail I. Dunlap, principal of Joppatowne Elementary in Harford County, has been named to a dual role. Grasmick previously named Dunlap to head the city's special-education department, but now she will also oversee the provision of services such as speech therapy and counseling.

Yesterday, Grasmick announced two more managers.

John Cox, assistant superintendent of instruction in the Charles County school system, will oversee the general instruction department. His focus will be on ensuring that special-education students in mainstream classes have access to a high-quality curriculum, and on using test data to drive instruction.

Min Leong, retired director of student services in Montgomery County, will oversee student services and guidance.

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