The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

The Valley

March 11, 2013

Schools: Additional special education services worth the expense

DANVILLE — Costs for Danville Area School District’s 305 special education students range between $13,000 and $17,000 per student, according to school officials.

The district is tasked with providing all the staff and services that might affect a student’s academic performance. Costs include occupational therapists, physical therapists, handicap-accessible transportation and tools such as wheelchairs and special pencil grips or seats required by students.

“There’s no exact number for this but I’d say it’s anywhere between $13,000 and $17,000 (per special education student),” said Janis Venna, business manager for the Danville district. “It just varies so greatly. It could be someone with mild learning disabilities or someone with severe learning and physical disabilities,” she said.

The budget for special education from the previous school year was $3.859 million. Though the budget for the 2013-2014 school year has not been finalized, Venna’s preliminary figures show a $19,000 decrease in funding for next year, bringing the department’s projected budget to $3.84 million.

The reduced funding could result in fewer community trips, where students learn to do things such as navigating a grocery store or using a debit card. However, there’s not a lot of extra fat left in the program at this point, said Jill Robbins, Danville’s special education director.

Last year, the district spent about $40,000 to cover physical and occupational therapists for all the district’s special education students.

“We service all kids regardless of their disability,” Robbins said. “I think we go above and beyond to meet our kids’ needs.”

The number of district students requiring special education needs has remained relatively constant in the three years that Robbins has been with the district. Special education students include those with autism, learning disabilities, emotional support, intellectual disability and speech and language problems.

Robbins said she is not certain how the district’s projected $1 million deficit will affect her program. “I’m sure its going to impact everybody,” she said.

School officials will determine where cuts will be made in the coming months.

“We’re just waiting to see what the final numbers are to provide adequate programs for our students,” said Cheryl Latorre, superintendent for Danville. “It’s a time when we need to do more with less.”

The school board will review a list of potential financial cuts during its March 12 meeting.

 

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