School District 64 spent 2 percent more on special education programs during the 2017-18 school year than it did during the 2015-16 school year, district officials told parents gathered Wednesday for the second meeting of a support group designed to address concerns about the district’s special education programs.
In all, District 64 spending on special education programs totaled approximately $13.7 million during the 2017-18 school year, district officials said.
The district spent an average of $19,287 on each student with significant disabilities during the current school year, an increase of approximately 7.5 percent from the 2015-16 school year, Superintendent Laurie Heinz told the group of several dozen parents.
That is “above and beyond” what the district is required to provide under state and federal law, Heinz said. Heinz said the presentation was designed to combat false information disseminated on Facebook by some parents several months ago that alleged that the district had cut spending on special education by $2 million.
“We are dedicated to making sure students get a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment,” Heinz said.
In response to questions from parents, Chief School Business Official Luann Kolstad and Heinz said they believe the district’s per capita spending on special education students to be “way above the state average” and higher than similar districts, but did not immediately have the data to detail the comparison.
Approximately 14 percent of the district’s 4,537 students have individualized education plans, which are required by the federal government to determine what services students are to receive and what accommodations must be made for them, officials said.
Federal law requires districts to spend at least the same amount every year on special education programs as compared with the previous year, Kolstad said. If a school district fails to meet that standard, it can face large fines, she added.
“It is designed to keep districts honest,” Kolstad said.
If the district fails to meet that threshold, officials must justify the cuts, Kolstad said, adding that it is acceptable to reduce spending if it is caused by the graduation of a special education student or the replacement of one teacher with another who is less experienced and paid accordingly.
“That protects at-risk students when times get tough,” Heinz said, and prevents officials from looking at special education services to keep their budgets out of the red.
District 64 has received approximately $1 million in grants from the federal government as part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in each of the past three years, Kolstad said.
The district also receives special education funding from the state, Kolstad said. That formula was changed last year by legislation approved by the General Assembly.
District 64 has no plans to reduce staff or programs under that new formula, which has yet to be fully implemented, Kolstad said.
The District 64 Board of Education is expected to approve the hiring of an additional elementary school special education coordinator at its meeting set for 7 p.m. Monday at Carpenter School, 300 N. Hamlin Ave., Park Ridge.
In addition, Heinz said she hoped to bring her pick for a permanent student services director to the board for approval on Monday. Interim Student Services Director Mike Padavic, who replaced Jane Boyd, who retired in December, is not seeking the position permanently.
Seven candidates have been narrowed to two finalists after several rounds of interviews and reference checks, Heinz said.
In addition, Heinz said she hoped to present the board with her selection of a firm to audit the district’s special education policies and programs after some parents objected to a proposal to have some students with disabilities start middle school one year early. District officials have since dropped that proposal.
Heather Cherone is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.