East Providence’s special needs student population holds steady

Director lauds impact of district’s pre-school initiative

By Mike Rego
Posted 6/13/19

EAST PROVIDENCE — Director of Special Education Bud MacDonnell provided the School Committee with an expansive overview of his sector at the body’s June 11 meeting as the 2018-19 term …

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East Providence’s special needs student population holds steady

Director lauds impact of district’s pre-school initiative

Posted

EAST PROVIDENCE — Director of Special Education Bud MacDonnell provided the School Committee with an expansive overview of his sector at the body’s June 11 meeting as the 2018-19 term concludes.

Dr. MacDonnell began his remarks by saying the number of students actively involved in special education, a total he pegged at 972 this year, has been holding relatively “steady” in recent years.

The breakdown of students who are educated through IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) and special ed teachers in each of its buildings is as follows: East Providence High School 179, 20; Martin Middle School, 98, 10; Riverside Middle School, 85, 9; Francis Elementary, 61, 4; Orlo Elementary, 48, 4; Hennessey Elementary, 54, 4; Whiteknact Elementary, 66, 6; Kent Heights, 49, 3.5; Silver Spring Elementary, 33, 4; Oldham Elementary, 29, 2; Waddington Elementary, 65, 4; and Pre-School/Pre-K, 90, 5.

Ward 4 committee member Jessica Beauchaine asked a couple of pertinent questions of Dr. MacDonnell, including one on the district meeting the IEP requirements of students.

“We are 100 percent compliant for all services to all children in their IEP…100 percent compliant in the report we just provided to RIDE (Rhode Island Department of Education),” he answered.

In response to a question by Ms. Beauchaine about state aid, the director said it does not provide salaries for any of the teachers, only for para-professionals (teacher aides) at one each per class where deemed necessary.

Asked by At-Large committee member Joel Monteiro about the impact to date on special education of the district’s pre-school program, Dr. MacDonnell took the opportunity to laud it and the results it’s produced so far.

“We do know the quality of our pre-school programs, the state-wide pre-school programs, has resulted in a decline in referrals to special education because those students are getting a wonderful education,” the director said. “And the services of that education, and the provisions of that education are stellar. And in many, many cases much better than you can get in the private sector.”

In fact, he said the efforts of the pre-school program, the staff of which is overseen by principal Karen Rebello, led to only five students being placed in self-contained specialized programs this term down from well over 20 in past years. Mr. MacDonnell called the decrease, “a dramatic change.” He added, since the pre-school program was implemented three years ago, “the trend is going the other way” because of the earlier support and the quality of the instruction.

Still, East Providence, like a few other municipalities, is at a disadvantage when it comes to how the state reimburses for the costs of special needs education, the director said, calling the situation a “challenge” to the school department’s budget. Places like Portsmouth and Newport have similar numbers to East Providence, 40, of the DCYF (Department of Children, Youth and Families) students in their districts. Others, which Dr. MacDonnell called an “inequity” of the system, have none.

Those without, do not have a bill to “pony up on” like East Providence does, he continued. “There are 35 other districts not feeling the pinch like we are,” he added.

In contrast, Massachusetts, our “neighbors to the north” according to the director, pay municipalities the entirety of the costs associated with state designated students. Dr. MacDonnell said East Providence and the other districts affected continue to request state legislators amend its school aid packages to reflect the annual expenditures required, though to no avail as of yet.

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