The special education budget for out-of-district placements has exploded over the past three years, increasing about 70 percent from $1.835 million for the 2014-2015 budget to a proposed $3.117 million for the 2017-2018 school year, according to the "Proposed FY18 Budget" released by the school department in May 2017. The increase in out-of-district tuition year-over-year alone will be more than $800,000. According to testimony at the May 25, 2017, Haverhill School Committee meeting, the out-of-district tuition covers just 77 students.
The increasing costs for this runaway budget item are mostly self-inflicted, as a result of failing to provide special education students with the services they need. The result is parents are taking their children out of the district at a much higher cost per student to the school department.
The schools may not be able to provide the necessary services for every student with special needs in the district but just reducing the cost to 2014-2015 levels would save more than $1 million every year.
That line item in the budget should have everyone's attention.
Of course, it isn't just about dollars. It's also about showing compassion for children who need specialized services so that they can access a fair and equitable education.
The good news is that providing special education students with the education programs they need and deserve also costs less when the Haverhill Public School Department provides those programs, as opposed to a private service provider.
We can get this budget item under control with a strategic plan and consistent and careful attention.