Nauset elementary schools spend $4.59 million for 171 special needs students

Nauset elementary schools spend 30% of budget on special ed

$4.59 million for 171 special needs students

by Walter Brooks

Chart shows the expense by school. See larger belowT hirty-percent of the FY13 elementary school budgets for Brewster, Eastham, Orleans and Wellfleet is to be spent on the education of 171 special needs students.  $4.59 million out of a combined budget of $15.4 million is allocated for special education according to budget worksheets available in the public documents section of the Nauset region’s website.

While researching Orleans Elementary School’s alarmingly high administrative costs and overall second highest cost per student on Cape Cod, CapeCodToday.com examined the budget worksheets for the five elementary schools in the Nauset region, hoping to find an explanation for Orleans’ reporting per student administrative costs that rank seventh-highest in Massachusetts.

Apologists for Orleans Elementary School often point to the high cost of special education at OES.  Indeed, 25% of OES students were classified as special needs in Fiscal 2012.  However, the special needs cost percentages in Brewster and Eastham are similar to Orleans.  Orleans Elementary budgeted 28.9% of its funds to educate what was reported in FY12 as 52 of its 208 students.

In Brewster the Eddy School budgeted 30.9% of its funds for special needs and the Stony Brook School needed 32.6% of its money to educate 29 special needs students.  Eastham allocated 33.6% for special needs and Wellfleet 19.5%.

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All five of the Nauset region’s elementary schools budgeted $4,593,285.

Barnstable spends only $6.9 million

For the sake of comparison we looked at the Barnstable Public Schools.  In the Barnstable Public Schools FY13 budget, page 57 shows the special education budget for the upcoming school year.  According to that document, Barnstable allocated $6.9 million (12% of their $58M overall school budget) for special education.

Constraints and Questions

Massachusetts has a notoriously generous suite of laws, rules and regulations governing the entitlements of special education students.  School district officials are tightly constrained in what they must provide for children with special needs.  Often they must provide those entitlements at the expense of services for non-special needs students.  The only “flexibility” a school district may have is how they determine which students qualify for special education services – and even then the school often ends up with threat of a lawsuit if they don’t provide everything the parents and advocates feel the special needs child is entitled to receive.

Why are special education costs so high in the Nauset region compared to Barnstable?  It could be that Orleans, Brewster, Eastham and Wellfleet have a high concentration of children with profound special needs.  It’s also possible that a small handful of the special needs children consume the bulk of the $4.59M in services.  It’s also possible that, with the Lower Cape’s higher socio-economic demographic, the parents in the Nauset region are better advocates for their special needs children than those in Barnstable.

If taxpayers are alarmed by the high cost of special education services in their local schools we submit it may be time to lobby our legislators to take a second look at the body of law governing special education in Massachusetts.

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