Friday, November 28, 2008

District shares struggles with special education

Special Note: Please see related editorial: "District Shares Struggles with Special Education - Blame the Parents Edition"

Posted on Tue, Nov 25, 2008
By Heather Tassmer; News Editor

Exeter school board and district staff members gave insight on the constant demands and struggles with special education during a Nov. 18 meeting. The school board members approved adopting two settlement agreements related to special education students.

Russell Diesinger, vice president of the board of school directors, voted no on the settlement agreements twice.

A call made to solicitor Jon S. Malsnee to find what the settlements were about was not returned by deadline.

Diesinger, vice president of the board of school directors, said that the public should know about the settlements.

"My concern is that it is an ongoing problem," Diesinger said. "I believe these folks that pay their taxes and are concerned about where tax money goes need to be made aware of the demands that are put on these district by these special education suits."

Beverly Martin, superintendent, said nothing prevents the board from disclosing how much the settlement costs. (The settlement money wasn't included on the agenda.)

The first settlement on the agenda cost the district $125,000 and the second cost about $100,000, school board president Jack Linton said.

Martin and Linton said both were paid during three-year periods.

Linton said, "To add onto what Russell is saying about how this affects the budget: you can't budget for what you don't know."

Diesinger stood up for the staff in the school district, saying that he has faith in them because he has watched them work during his time on the school board.

"I will tell you these people do the best they can in very difficult situations meeting the needs of children of great need," Diesinger said. "Unfortunately, the courts don't view it that way. The courts look for whatever reason there is and we end up in these settlements. Unfortunately, it costs the taxpayers in this community a lot of money."

Linton added, "These are federal laws passed down by the state and the state tells us what to do. We have very little control over these issues."

Special Education report

Barry N. Webb, supervisor of Special Education, gave a report to the board.

Webb told the board about changes to some requirements for special education aides. As of 2010, aides must have additional rigorous training to meet higher state standards.

Webb said in order to meet the standards aides can either attend an eight-day training program that's offered at Berks County Intermediate Unit or they have to hold an associate's degree.

The supervisor said that information about the Special Education department can be accessed on the Exeter Township School District Web site, The Web site shows what kind of services are offered through the department.

"One of the other big things we had to prepare for this year that we didn't have to do last year was progress monitoring," he said, adding that special education experts will come to the district in February to complete the report.

The department staff have to prepare thorough reports for the visit.

Another change in the department in the last couple of years is the growth of "low incidence population" students.

Webb said that the "low incidence" population of special education students have needs that are drastic to other students.

He defined the students in the population as life skills, IU programs, autistic and multi-disabled.

Webb said that the department staff has compiled booklets that are distributed to parents of special education children. These binders are designed to help the staff and parents monitor the students' progress together.

Martin distributed a letter to board members from the Department of Education that commended the district for compliance of The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for the fiscal year 2006.

Webb said he is working with staff to meet state requirements and hopes to bring up rate of identifying students with special needs up to 85 or 90 percent.
In other business:

• Robert Quinter Jr.: One piece of legislation that is still pending or still in house that taxpayers over the age of 65 won't be liable for any increases in prop taxes from the date of enactment on out.

• Martin said Exeter has been successful for two years in a row with the Berks Photographic Society student competition. Last year some students did well in the competition and this year Vicky Corbett took first and third place.

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