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SAD 75, Brunswick eye special ed collaboration

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SAD 75, Brunswick eye special ed collaboration

TOPSHAM — The special education directors of School Administrative District 75 and Brunswick want to combine their programs by 2013.

The collective would comprise one set of programs, polices and practices for both districts, as well as a single administrative structure for special education and shared governance by the Brunswick and SAD 75 school boards.

The approach would be meant to enhance opportunities for students with disabilities and their families, produce high-quality programs and reduce costs.

A first step in the process is a jointly sponsored program, which the two special education directors hope to debut in the coming school year, geared toward secondary-school students with severe multiple disabilities. The school boards of both districts must approve the proposal.

"The students that we're talking about are youngsters who are about 12 years old or so who will be leaving our elementary programs, entering our middle and junior high school programs," Patrick Moore, SAD 75 special education director, said.

Of the approximately 1,000 special education students in the two districts, only a few from each would be part of next year's program.

"We're talking about a very, very small, and yet unique, group of children, with some very unique needs, that are so highly specialized that we really can't maintain that within our own program that already exists," Paul Austin, Brunswick's special education director, said.

These students require programs designed with mobility, adaptive living skills, communication and medical issues in mind.

Moore said both districts have a growing number of those students. While both districts have established elementary programs for students with significant needs, a stable and consistent program for secondary-level students would be required, the directors said.

Since a task force comprised of both districts has looked into how the two could work together, they said, collaboration in the special education area seemed to be an opportune fit.

"Both of us really have to develop programs," Moore said. "And rather than doing that independently, we decided to do this jointly, really in kind of recognition that over the next several years our ability to sustain the quality of programs we have individually is going to be pretty severely challenged financially. ... By pooling our resources I think we really are in a much better place to sustain the quality of services that we have as we develop this program."

A program addressing the needs of that small group is foreshadowing what could, in a few years, be an initiative that encompasses all special education students.

"We both believe ... that it's very plausible to think about having one mega special ed program between the two school districts, for all of the youngsters with disabilities," Moore said.

Austin pointed out that Brunswick sits geographically in the middle of SAD 75's towns. "Really we do the exact same things," he said, referring to the two districts' programs. "We both also recognize we've got really good staff ... in both of our districts, that putting them together makes a whole lot of sense in thinking about the quality of education we're offering students."

The program for the districts' students with more severe disabilities would be geared toward maximum student independence and self care. The learning environment would include school and community resources, and the program would be staffed by two teachers and a one-to-one educational technician for each student.

Support services would include social work, occupational and physical therapy, adaptive physical education, sight, speech, language, nursing, and behavior and autism.

Space is potentially available at Brunswick Junior High School for these services, according to Austin and Moore.

Staff from both districts would be employed by the program, requiring no additional personnel resources. While significant physical plant renovations, such as shower facilities, safety glass and accessible doors, may be necessary, that expense might be covered by stimulus funds, the directors said. Those funds might also cover staff development, as well as furniture and equipment improvements.

"I think that in the short term, there are going to be some start-up costs, so there's not going to be a great deal of savings," Moore said.

However, he added, "I think over time, over five, six, seven years, what we will see is an efficient use of public resources. ... It's that efficiency that will really keep our costs down."

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.