Vernon school district declines outsourcing Special Ed

Parents object to handing services to outside agency


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VERNON — After intense public comment, the Vernon Township School District Board of Education chose to keep special education services inhouse.

“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a nation to raise a special needs child. Please don't take away the part of the nation that is teaching my daughter to live independently.”
Vernon Township School District Parent Donna Costa

The original proposal to outsource the district's physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy services to an outside agency met with objections from the parents of some of the special education students in the district, who showed up in large numbers to protest the change.

Robert Dunlop expressed the fear that too many of the cuts in the budget are focused around special education. He said he comes in and out of the schools frequently, and sees administrators and support staff clustered around computers, looking at pictures, instead of focusing on the children.

“I want continuity for my son and every other special-needs child in the district," he said. "I have serious concerns that priorities of this board aren't focused on wher they should be.”

Megan Struble is an occupational therapist herself, and works in another school district and has worked for an agency in the past. Her argument against oursourcing the services in Vernon is simple: in-house staff care more. Agencies are notorious for increasing caseloads, because their profit comes from providing services to as many children as possible in a day.

“I am an employee,” she said. “I go to meetings and interact with the staff. Agency employees don't have time for that.”

Donna Costa also stood up to speak against the change, saying “if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a nation to raise a special needs child. Please don't take away the part of the nation that is teaching my daughter to live independently.”

At the end of the public comment session, board member John McGowan stood up to address the concerns the board was considering the outsourcing because of budget issues. He said that he saw two issues, first the outsourcing, which he had his own concerns about, and second, the perception that money was being cut from special education.

According McGowan, special education funding has increased every year over the last four years, even as the number of special-needs students has declined. In the 2011-12 school year, there were 738 special education students and a budget of $11.3 million. By the 2013-14 school year, there were 665 special education students and a budget of $12.1 million. In the 2014-2015 budget, that amount goes up by $95,303 to $12.2 million.

“We are not cutting special education funding; we are increasing it,” he said.

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