District Finds Cost Reduction in Special Ed (AL)
May 18, 2010
The School District of Springfield Township saved about $700,000 last year by establishing its own program for special needs students instead of sending them to the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit, according to Pupil Services and Special Education Director Sylvia Sanfilippo-Cohn.
“I’ve been at Springfield for 15 years, and I have been attempting to build capacity to provide appropriate services within the school district for as many special needs children as possible,” Cohn said in an interview Tuesday.
The savings represent the tuition that the district no longer pays to the IU for children with autism to attend an extended school year, a summer program mandated for the most challenged students who might lose too many skills during summer vacation, Cohn said.
Springfield has sponsored a pilot ESY program at the high school for the past two years, and last month the school board voted to make that program permanent. Seventeen students will participate in the ESY program this summer, Cohn said.
“We’ve been very successful, so we’re making it a permanent program,” she said.
Some of the d istrict’s savings are being used to finance its own program, but the cost of holding it in Springfield is much less than at the IU, and the district also saves on transportation costs, she said.
Hosting its own programs also opens the district to more funding. Special needs students who have individualized education programs are eligible for medical assistance reimbursement called ACCESS, which offsets the cost of support such as nursing care and occupational, speech and language therapies, she said.
When the children are placed outside of the district, the district doesn’t get that revenue, she said. Currently, about a third of eligible parents have signed up for ACCESS, Cohn said. It would be helpful if all signed up because it assists the costs of special education, which are pretty high, and helps the taxpayer, she said.
Outside of the cost-cutting benefits, hosting ESY within the district also lets the administration monitor its programs for quality, Cohn said. In her proposal to the school board, Cohn wrote that there is no control over programming or the caliber of staff at the IU. Parents have been exasperated with the IU in the past, she wrote.
As a result of this push to provide services within the district instead of sending students out, the district has developed a variety of programs, Cohn said.
For example, the district offers a part-time learning support program for students from kindergarten to age 21 that provides functional life skills and prevocational training. This program began about seven years ago.
“I no longer use any of the life skills programs at the IU,” Cohn said. The first 21-year-old graduated from the program last year, she added.
Now only two students in the district attend class at the IU. Four others attend approved private schools for emotional and mental support, Cohn said.
Next, she is looking to develop a support program at the middle school for children with autism, and another at the high school by 2011, she said.