Funding Cliff Comes to New Hanover

As school district budgets for the upcoming 2011-2012 school year are being hammered out across the country, reports of substantial cuts to special education are surfacing (see Business Insider blog post, Crisis in Public Education, for a long list of news articles about cuts in education!).

For example, the proposed budget for New Hanover County Schools in North Carolina cuts special education jobs worth $2.3 million, according to this story. Parents voiced their concerns about the cuts at a recent school board meeting.

We were curious about the proposed cuts – and whether the school district might be violating IDEA’s maintenance of effort requirement. We found the New Hanover proposed school budget for the 2011-2012 school year. Turns out, according to the proposed budget (on pages 21-22), that the district’s proposed personnel cuts are all positions funded with Recovery Act (ARRA) funds. Here are the jobs created with ARRA funds that must now be eliminated:

ARRA Reduction
Special Education – IDEA

Classroom Teachers (10)
-4 High School, 2 Middle School, 4 Elementary
Elementary Resource Teachers (2)
Regional Service Teachers (4)
Speech Pathologists/Audiologists (2)
Teacher Assistants (37)
Pre-K Teacher Assistants (2)
Hearing Interpreters (2)
Middle School Interventionist (1)
Occupational Therapist (1)
Physical Therapist (1)
Lead Adaptive Physical Education (1)

According to the Budget Summary on page 48, New Hanover will cut 123 ARRA-funded school-based positions in the upcoming school year, 63 from special education ($2.5 million) and 60 from Title I ($2.8 million). Another ARRA-funded position – a specialist in Adaptive Physical Education – is also cut, for a savings of $55,000.

According to the special education section of the New Hanover website,

“Students receive services in varying amounts of time depending on need.  Amounts of service range from consultation and minimal instructional intervention focused on the North Carolina Standard Course of Study to full-time specially designed instruction with related services.  All service decisions are specified in an Individualized Education Program (IEP) jointly developed by parents and school teams.”

Based on this statement, we’ll assume that the IEPs of all students with disabilities who will be affected by these significant staff reductions have been revised to reflect the type and level of special education services to be received in the coming school year. Since IDEA Part B federal funds – including Recovery Act funds -may be used only to pay for the excess costs of providing a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to children with disabilities – the services provided to students by the additional staff hired with Recovery Act funds in New Hanover constitute FAPE.

The special education staffing reductions planned for New Hanover are unfortunate. However, they are not a violation of the IDEA’s maintenance of effort (MOE) requirement since they were funded with IDEA Recovery Act funds. The U.S. Department of Education provided extensive guidance on suggested ways to spend IDEA Recovery Act funds – always advising school districts to be careful about creating unsustainable expenditures – such as new staff positions, like those added in New Hanover. Now, those positions must be eliminated – and the services provided to students with disabilities – will be eliminated as well.

One Response to “Funding Cliff Comes to New Hanover”

  1. Lisa Keller says:

    This emphasizes critical importance of parents educating themselves (through workshops, etc.) and having capability in crafting a well written education contract = IEP.

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