Franklin schools seek $1M increase in special education budget

  • Franklin town hall, police department, fire department. Maddie Vanderpool

Monitor staff
Published: 5/10/2019 5:52:41 PM

Special education director Rebecca Butt sees the devastating impacts of the opioid epidemic every day in the children she works with in the Franklin School District.

Students who have grown up around drug use are more likely to be diagnosed with symptoms of trauma, anxiety and mood disorders, Butt said.

Butt said several students in the district were born with the neonatal abstinence syndrome, a condition suffered by babies who are exposed to drugs in the womb. Research shows that exposure can cause delays in speech and language development, learning disabilities, hyperactivity and cognitive challenges.

“What we’re running into is a major increase in behaviors, behaviors that I haven’t seen in the school setting,” she said at a Franklin City Council meeting. “I’d be lying if I said they didn’t frighten me at times because I’m not used to seeing this level of behaviors in schools, or these needs. It’s just pretty intense.”

The Franklin special education department is looking for a $1,014,093 increase in funding in the school board’s proposed 2019-20 budget, a 24 percent increase over what it received last year, $4,313,469.

If approved, special education spending would amount to almost one-third of the total costs for the district, Butt said.

Butt said they need more speech, occupational and physical therapists to keep up with the need. Butt said 26% of the students in the district now are identified special education students, compared to 17% in Concord.

“We just keep up with everything we’re facing right now,” Butt said.

Special education funding was a major topic of conversation at the May 7 meeting, where the Franklin School District presented its proposed 2019-20 budget, at $16,826,548.

School funding has long been a concern in the city. The Franklin School District has seen more than 20 staff cuts over three years. Last year, the school budget shortfall grew to about $1 million for the third year in a row.

A lot of it has to do with a loss of state adequacy money – the district has lost $1,564,799 in adequacy from the state in five years, according to Superintendent Dan LeGallo.

City Councilor Robert Desrochers said he is concerned how the rising need in special education will inflate some of the issues around funding the city is already facing.

“Your presentation was impressive, but to be honest with you, your presentation is scarier than any horror movie I’ve ever seen,” Desrochers said. “With our opioid crisis, there’s no end to this. This could go on and on and on forever. How anyone is ever going to find the money to take care of some of this stuff is baffling to me.”

Something that might save some money long-term would be investing in a board-certified behavior analyst, Butt said. That could help students who are now being bused to other districts or attending charter schools to stay in Franklin.

Behavior analysts have credentialing to implement applied behavior analysis with therapy and programming for kids with severe behavioral needs, Butt said. Currently, the district has one full-time behavior consultant who is not certified in that field and whose job is to work with all of the district’s 995 students – not just special education.

“It’s impossible for her to meet the needs of all students,” Butt said.

The school district is also looking for funding for an additional guidance counselor for the high school and a few other positions.

LeGallo said a secondary budget that the district created that would bring them under the tax cap – approximately $14.3 million – involves cutting 13 staff member positions, including two second-grade teachers, two sixth-grade teachers and two kindergarten teachers.

Eleven additional already open positions would also be cut, including a computer teacher for the high school.

LeGallo said he is required by law to notify staff of any layoffs by Wednesday, May 15.

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