Giving every child an education with special needs is challenging and necessary

MARSHALL COUNTY — Last year the state of Indiana estimated there were 1.03 million students for the 2013-2014 school year. Of those, 170,014 were special education students and preschoolers with disabilities between the ages of five and 22.
“Not getting help can affect a child mentally and emotionally. It even turns a kid off sometimes to school and they don’t want to learn anymore, and it then turns out that maybe they become a behavioral problem and the issue is that they’re really struggling with a subject like math,” said Director of Special Education for Plymouth Schools Michele Riise.
Plymouth is in a special class of its own, having been part of the former JESSE Co-Op with eight other school corporations. Two years ago, JESSE and its board of directors, made up of the superintendents for the schools in the area, chose to give more control to the schools in order to reorganize, streamline, and put the power back into the hands of the schools. Culver, Triton, and Argos make up part of one service district; John Glenn and Union North a second district; and Knox, North Judson and Oregon Davis the third district.
“The schools were paying into JESSE to provide for the staff in their buildings and shared the staff and costs,” explained JESSE Director Linda Holland.
Under their own umbrella, the schools, aside from Plymouth, hires and pays their own staff instead of using JESSE hired teachers. The only services that the schools still use from the cooperative are staff such as occupational therapy and physical therapy services, autism, hearing impaired, and vision impaired consultants. Schools share services within their districts and classrooms.
“They still act as a group and we share these expensive supportive services. Everybody shares and pays equally for the number of kids that they have,” explained Holland.
JESSE still works to keep the schools abreast of changes in education so that they can remain complaint with state standards.
According to Tom Bendy, the treasurer for John Glenn School Corporation, for each student who attends school, the state provides about $5,500 per student to the school. An additional $8,350 is given per child if the child has a severe handicap, while mild to moderate disability students garner $2,265.
John Glenn spends over $1 million on special education.
“If the child is preschool age and requires special education services like early intervention, that’s around $2,750. The money applies toward the education of a student, transportation, if needed, and that just depends on the child,” said Bendy.
According to Bendy, even with the additional funding that comes from the state, there are some children that schools will lose money on, depending on the needs of that child. Children who are more severely disabled may require more than the special education teachers, such as an additional staff member or in some instances, a full time nurse, who may be paid at $18,000-20,000 per year.
“State revenue won’t cover that,” said Bendy. “We have to use general fund monies to cover those costs.”
This is not necessarily a failing of education, but a matter of how much funding a school receives. After Plymouth split into its own district because of its size, it began to handle 6-11 and 6-19 grants, which adds some revenue to the costs of providing for the needs of special education students.
Some of the schools work around what they have and don’t have.
LaVille Elementary School used to have three special education teachers. In order to save costs without cutting on needs, LaVille transferred one of its teachers to the high school. While technically cutting the position, they rearranged staff to better suit the needs of their students. The two teachers remaining at the elementary are able to manage with the 40 or so special education kids that they have.
“The last five years, the biggest challenge is because of state funds being cut,” said Rob Richards, a special needs educator, who has been with LaVille schools for 14 years.
Richards said that “the nice thing about LaVille that other schools may not have is the variety of research based programs. Our school had funding at a time to get these programs.”
Programs like the Wilson Reading System and Read Naturally, a computer based software geared at reading development, is good for kids with reading disabilities.
Union North shares a psychologist with John Glenn.
In Triton Schools district, Argos handles students with mild or moderate handicaps and children with autism spectrum disorder, while Culver takes on students with more emotional issues and hearing impairments, according to Superintendent of Triton Schools, Donna Burroughs.
“We have students sent to those schools because they have a teacher specifically for that type of disability,” she explained.
Often students will be bused to the school that can best handle their needs, especially after meeting with school administrators, counselors, case committee supervisors, and the parents, to best determine and review what the child needs to be successful in school.
“Kids with a disability are different from every other kid with a disability,” stated Burroughs. “We sit down and evaluate what is needed for the student.”
Each school does this for the children moving into their service areas. Schools are unable to give a final estimation for how many special education need students they will have until just before the start of the year when final roles are tallied.

This article appeared in the July 30 edition of the Pilot News.