Hudson confronts complexities of special needs schooling

HUDSON–Continuing uncertainty about state funding for next school year and a presentation on special education were among the matters addressed at the Hudson City School District Board of Education meeting Monday, March 9.

Also at the meeting, district Business Executive Robert Yusko announced that JMS Construction has bought the Greenport School on state Route 66. The closing was March 2. The district closed the school several years ago and put the property on the market. The developer plans to use the site for residential units.

“I have no update from the state,” but “I’m more hopeful than before,” Mr. Yusko said of the annual state budget, due by April 1.

At a meeting a week earlier Michelle Levings, the director of state aid planning for Questar III BOCES, had indicated to school officials that state policy makers have talked about a “floor” of a $1 billion increase in education funding statewide in the new state budget and that the “full elimination of the Gap Elimination Adjustments is being discussed.”

The Gap Elimination Adjustment is an automatic reduction in state funds promised to school districts. It was imposed during the recent recession as a way of keeping increases in state school funding consistent with increases in state personal income. Since its inception in the 2009-2010 school year, the Hudson City School District (HCSD) has lost an average of $2.1 million a year because of it. If the adjustment is not applied to funding for upcoming 2015-16 school year, HCSD would gain $875,000 in state aid, according to Mr. Yusko’s estimate.

But he reminded the meeting that the state budget is not yet final.

Kim Lybolt, the administrator in charge of the district’s student services and special education, showed items that the district must consider as it crafts its budget for special education. To serve students with special needs, the district uses its own qualified teachers and other professionals, outside contract professionals, Questar III BOCES personnel, home instructions, technological aids and, when necessary, the services of other school districts.

And “students are coming into the district needier than they were in the past,” Ms. Lybolt said. “A significant and growing number of students come with mental health needs.”

Deciding how much staff to employ and building space to devote for special education requires adhering to government regulations. For example, the state mandates limits on the number of children who may be in certain special education settings, and in some special ed classrooms, the age difference between the oldest and youngest child in the room at the same time must not exceed 36 months. To accommodate these requirements, some schools try to schedule the exact hours when certain students can be in certain rooms.

Furthermore, success-oriented special educational sometimes requires non-traditional settings for students, such as:

  • A deaf kindergartener from the HCSD currently attends school in the Albany suburb of Guilderland, which professionals have determined can best meet the child’s current needs
  • Five students receive home instruction because “they have not been successful within the school program”
  • Two students “residentially placed” because of behavior that could endanger staff members.

To qualify for special educational services, a child must undergo an evaluation. If found eligible, professionals develop an individualized educational program (IEP) for the child. Ms. Lybolt reported that 13 children recently underwent evaluations, and five were subsequently “found eligible.” Of the 13 evaluations, “only three were school-initiated,” the other 10 were initiated by parents.

To get the label “disabled,” a child must fit one of the state’s recognized disabilities which include autism, learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, blindness, deafness and multiple disabilities.

A special needs students can aim for a Career Development and Occupational Studies Commencement Credential (CDOS) instead of, or in addition to, a Regents diploma. Since schools can keep students until the age of 21, Ms. Lybolt said, some students continue high school after earning and receiving their CDOS, sometimes in the hope of earning a Regents diploma.

But Ms. Lybolt added that Adult Services programs for the disabled have begun raising the minimum age to 21, reasoning that younger people can remain in school until they reach that age.

The next Hudson City School Board meeting will take place Monday, March 23, at the High School Library. It will start with a budget workshop at 6:30 pm, followed by a regular meeting at 7 p.m.

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