District may relocate special education program

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ENDWELL (WBNG) — Maine-Endwell School District’s 8:1:1 Special Education program may be forced to relocate due to funding.

“We simply cant afford to keep all these programs,” said Maine-Endwell School District Superintendent, Jason Van Fossen. “It is absolutely 100% a budgetary issue.”

Van Fossen told 12 News on Monday that multiple teachers in the 8:1:1 program are retiring, and the district cannot afford to pay new salaries. Instead, they’re looking at relocating the program and the students to another school.

“BOCES would be the best alternative,” explained Van Fossen. He said that special education teachers would stay within the district to be utilized elsewhere.

“If we take all of our current 8:1:1 students and we move them to a BOCES program, dollar for dollar, it’s actually a bit more expensive,” said Van Fossen. “However, if we keep all of our students here, and we hire additional staff to compensate for the needs over the next three budget cycles, it’s going to be a net-effect against the district of about $300,000.”

Van Fossen explained that it’s not a “cost-savings measure, it’s a reallocation of staffing so we don’t have to hire additional staff.” He said the current special education staff will be used for other special education programs.

“If we keep our 8:1:1 program, we’ll have to hire three or four additional teachers, plus additional aides,” explained Van Fossen. “If we move the 8:1:1 program… we would not need to hire additional staff.”

The superintendent said the district has 6 full-time staff members, 23 aides for its approximately 23 students in its 8:1:1 program. Van Fossen said it requires the highest teacher to student ratio.

Parents and their children in the 8:1:1 program lined the outdoor path leading to Monday’s board of education meeting at Maine-Endwell’s District Offices. All of them hope this program continues in the district.

“We just want our kids to be included with the regular population, because as they grow up they’re going to be in a community and need to learn that,” said Courtney Donnelly, whose 6-year-old daughter Gabbie is a student in the program.

“The Maine-Endwell community needs these kids too, they need to see differences and learn acceptance and by taking these kids out they’re never going to learn that, so we all need each other and these kids just to deserve to have the same education as everybody else,” explained Donnelly.

Donnelly told 12 News that her daughter, who has cerebral palsy, has grown “tremendously” in the program, “In the last two years she has grown more than she has in her whole six years of life,” said Donnelly.

Donnelly, who remains hopeful for an inclusive future for her daughter, and another parent spoke about the program’s importance at Monday’s meeting.

“We’re not giving up, we’re hopeful and we’re hoping that that doesn’t happen and we’re hopeful that the board finds another avenue and money is found elsewhere,” said Donnelly.

“If our budget can handle an additional staff member in May, when we have our budget vote, and we can afford it then maybe the 8:1:1 program may not have to be re-allocated,” said Van Fossen.

Donnelly says she appreciates the Board of Education listening to options.

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Michael Schwartz

Michael Schwartz

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