Sequester hits special edPublished 11:15pm Friday, March 22, 2013
Federal budget cuts will reduce the quality of instruction special needs students and their parents have grown accustomed to, Suffolk Public Schools’ director for the program says.
As a result of the sequester, which took effect March 1 after federal lawmakers failed to reach an agreement on across-the-board cuts to rein in the deficit, federal funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Education Jobs Fund and Title VI-B are no longer available to benefit special education programs.
For Suffolk’s public schools, this means the loss of six compliance specialists, three transition specialists, three special education teachers, eight teacher assistants, one assistive technology technician and one special education data specialist.
With the school district asking the city for an additional $9 million for 2013-2014, there was no chance of funding the positions internally, said Antoine Hickman, the district’s director of special education.
“We considered it, but that was a brief consideration,” he said.
The situation will be managed, and compliance maintained, by dispersing responsibilities from the 22 lost positions among other staff, he said, adding that stipends will compensate for extra workloads.
Staff directly affected by the cuts will be reassigned rather than fired, Hickman said, and the district has not been filling special education teaching vacancies, but rather relying on substitutes, in preparation.
At a School Board meeting earlier this month, Louis Bagley, chairman of the district’s Special Education Advisory Committee, argued that by not locally funding the lost positions, the district is hurting “our most vulnerable population in the city — children with special needs.”
Louis, who commended Hickman’s efforts to ameliorate the cuts, suggested the establishment of a fund for donations from the private sector.
“Perhaps we could get enough funding to where we wouldn’t have to worry about losing funds each year,” he said.
“If our schools continue to have this loss of funds, and we put more strain on our teachers,” then the whole city and wider community will suffer, he said.
Hickman said the loss of federal funds would have repercussions.
“It’s going to impact something,” he said, adding that the biggest loss would likely be to the “individual service” special-needs children have enjoyed until now.
“It’s going to be managed. The statement we have been hearing a lot of is ‘doing more with less.’”