2008-06-05 / Letters to the Editor

Educating special needs children at home a savings to taxpayers

It is only in the past few years that the Jamestown special education program has been recognized as providing exceptional services to our children, especially those with autism.

Nine years ago, I had the unfortunate privilege of sitting at my 3-year-old's IEP meeting and the special education team pushing for outof district placement. At that time, they sincerely believed that they could not meet the needs of a severe, profound, nonverbal autistic. Their interest was specifically that they wanted my child to succeed, not necessarily send him to an outside placement.

I was forced to choose between keeping my son with his intense needs in the Jamestown school and discovering the unknowns of educating him or sending my son out-of-district at incredible expense to the town with zero guarantees that he would fair any better. He went to Melrose Avenue School.

The entire special ed team, including regular education staff and myself, trained in every aspect of Picture Exchange Communication. The experience was a down and dirty schooling boot camp with mistakes, challenges and successes. The OT took seminars in brushing techniques, sensory integration and developed an environment where she could better deliver onsite services to children. The speech therapist immersed herself in communication and behavioral therapies, being our constant go-to expert. And, the preschool teacher and her aids gave me support, ideas, and methods for carryover at home. We researched all the training and educational tools available to us, and my son and other Jamestown children were the beneficiaries of our incredible hard work and dedication.

Over the years, other families uprooted their lives and moved to Jamestown to provide the best for their children, both special needs and typical. Unlike Mr. Kelly, I have heard of only two families that have moved here specifically for the special education program. And, I have heard of just as many families moving out of Jamestown, since they believed their special education or typical children's academic needs were not met in our district. In some unspoken way, Mr. Kelly seems to have denigrated families with special needs school children, as if they are a burden to Jamestown. I cannot help but to have an inkling from both the Sutton and Kelly commentaries that if there was a large enough raft, they would send some of us adrift.

Most important to the almighty taxpayer and voting constituents of Councilmen Kelly and Sutton, our innovation and development of a school program that met my son's needs within the district saved tens of thousands of dollars. Educators, administrators and this mom, saved taxpayers approximately $25,000 to $30,000 annually. And, over the tenure of my son's elementary years, the taxpayers saved a minimum of $200,000. That is the savings for one child.

Presently, his needs require a special education bus, a one-onone on the bus, and out of district placement in a specialized school and therapies delivered by outside resources. All totaled this creates a monster of a bill for educating this born and bred Jamestown boy!

As a taxpayer myself, I think we should expand our education program such that the town derives income from our newfound expertise in educating special needs children. The current program is ideal for tuition income derived from placement of out-of-district children. Even better, perhaps we should invite other communities on a paid consulting basis to explore and view a model school system that embraces their children. Perhaps our goal should be mentoring regional administrators and educators with developing a superior framework for meeting the academic and therapeutic needs of children within their districts. With the current economic climate, school districts throughout Rhode Island are recognizing that bringing "home" special needs children is a valuable economic means for balancing school and town budgets. Why not use our educational know-how for Jamestown's financial advantage?

Our special education and disabled community are not going away, they will not be shoved off the island. By the same token, I do not want to see the elderly on fixed incomes taxed off the island. Assuming autism diagnoses (1 in 93 boys) continue to rise, it would behoove the Council to think outside the traditional economic model. It would be a disservice to the taxpayers if the Town Council only questioned the spending portion of the budget, and shortsighted not embracing unique opportunities that create income and sustain the lifestyles of all our townspeople. Amy Barclay Jamestown

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