The Five Town Community School District and Maine School Administrative District 28 provide special education and related services to more than 230 eligible children and youth with disabilities, ages 5 through 20, in accordance with federal and state mandates.

We offer a continuum of services and programs to meet the needs of students with disabilities that will enable them to develop their unique talents and abilities. Special education services include evaluative, instructional and related services. Programs and services, ranging from consultation with classroom teachers to highly individualized programs, are designed to ensure that appropriate programs are available to all children with disabilities in the least restrictive environment with an opportunity for education with nondisabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate. When a student is found eligible for special education services, the student’s parent(s) and a team of professionals together develop an individualized education program. Depending on need, children and youth with IEPs may receive classroom accommodations, specially designed instruction and related services such as speech, occupational or physical therapy, positive behavioral supports, and personal care.

The district provides the educational programs for students residing at two group homes operated by Harbor Family Services in Rockport. The state reimburses us for the costs of educating these youngsters, who come from all parts of Maine if they are placed at HFS by the state and qualify for special education services. We are also responsible for responding to special education referrals of children attending private schools in our district, regardless of what town they reside in. In addition, we provide consultation and limited direct services to children identified with disabilities attending a private school.

Recent reductions in state aid to education have heightened review of the high costs and efficacy for programs and services to students with disabilities. There is concern that Maine’s prevalence of students identified with disabilities is among the highest in the United States along with the associated high costs of providing special education programs.

We have compared special education prevalence rates in the CSD and SAD 28 with national and state data. According to the December 2009 child count, the average identification rate in Maine was 15 percent compared with 14.9 percent at the CSD and 16.5 percent at SAD 28. These numbers represent a decrease in our districts’ identification rates when just a few years ago we were close to 20 percent. While there is no question that many children receive high quality individualized instruction and vital support through special education, the elevated rates of children identified with disabilities in our schools is of concern to us for a number of reasons.

Research indicates that outcomes for students with disabilities are not as positive as for their nondisabled peers. Special education costs are high and students are not eligible for services unless their performance is significantly below age and grade expectations. As such, special education has been a wait to fail model. Since 2007, Maine has required clearer criteria in the identification of students with learning and speech/language disabilities. We are working to reduce our special education prevalence rate to 9 to 12 percent. We continue to examine our programs and staff to student ratios, seeking to balance appropriate supports while advancing our goal for every student to achieve independence, competence and self-reliance to the greatest extent possible. While we are still in the budget process, we expect to reduce special education administration by 16 percent and overall, special education costs will be cut at least 9 percent at both the CSD and SAD 28.

An ongoing frustration for local and state education budgets is the failure of the federal government to fully fund special education at 40 percent of the national per pupil average. The proposed federal contribution toward meeting the excess cost of special education is about 17 percent of the national average per pupil expenditure and provides an estimated average of $1,750 per student. Due to penalties, debt service and cuts in state subsidies, we anticipate that only a fraction of the costs for mandated special education programs and services will be covered by state monies. The school boards, administration, and staff of the CSD and SAD 28 remain committed to providing quality programs for students with exceptionalities. We greatly appreciate input from the public on the budget process, and your interest in maintaining responsive and appropriate special education programs for our students.

Judy Gove is director of special education at the Five Town CSD and SAD 28.