will bring more special education students back into the classroom, along with more teachers over the next five years.
District officials announced the plans Wednesday night at a meeting following the unveiling of the results of an outside audit of special education programs. School officials said the changes will bolster district finances. Assistant Superintendent John Knewitz said the district has approximately 2,000 students with an Individual Education Plan, about 15 percent of the overall student population. Some of those students do not receive their education in the hallways of District 303, but are sent to facilities outside the district. Of those 2,000 students with IEPs, about 7.5 percent are receiving educational services from those outside programs, such as Mid Valley.
The audit, conducted by The Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative at Education Development Center, Inc., in the winter of 2011, recommended the district bring all those students back into the fold.
Knewitz said they agree there are too many district students serviced by outside programs, but said it is not a reasonable expectation to immediately bring all those students back into the district. However, those students who can successfully be re-integrated back into the school system should be, he said.
The money saved from relying on those outside programs could be used to hire more certified special education teachers, the USELC report said. The report also criticized the district for relying on too many teaching assistants and paraprofessionals as opposed to certified teaching staff. The district currently employs 160 paraprofessionals.
Although parents at the meeting were disappointed at the elimination of some of the paraprofessional positions, they were excited about the hiring of more special education teachers.
According to the report district parents are generally satisfied the district’s work with those special needs students, however the report said those parents do not have a “collective voice” for expressing concerns.
Knewitz said district officials are looking at the recommendations of the USELC and adopt those recommendations that are applicable. However, he told parents the district will have to adopt the recommendations over a five-year period.
“The report confirmed some things we already knew about the district,” Knewitz said. “We need to work a bit harder at improving the rate of change of services for those students with special needs.”
However, Knewitz reminded parents that change does not happen overnight. He said the target goal is to increase support for students with learning need over a five year period.