A brief but informative presentation by Everett Public Schools Special Education Director Dr. Michael Baldassarre on his department’s spending and cost-saving practices was stricken from Monday night’s City Council proceedings.
Baldassarre and Assistant Superintendents Charles Obremski and Kevin Shaw were prepared to talk about the major facets of the financial crisis facing the Everett Public Schools, but the councilors opted not to hear them, saying the presentations would be a repeat of information discussed during the previous week’s School Committee meeting. But Dr. Baldassarre has not spoken at a public meeting about the challenges and successes of his department.
“Our ever-changing student population and sudden, unexpected special education costs are a fundamental part of this story,” said Superintendent Frederick F. Foresteire. “I was eager for Dr. Baldassarre to talk about the work we’re doing, particularly at the Devens School.”
In fiscal year 2018, the Devens, a fully-accredited therapeutic day school, will save the district a projected $1.8 million. While the school generates $383,383 in tuition from out-of-district students, a bigger impact is seen from savings in transportation costs. Everett students at the Devens average $23.75 per day in transportation costs. Out-of-district transportation costs average $127 per day, per student. The savings to the EPS on transportation alone top $1 million.
Overall, Everett has seen a decrease in the number of students who need to receive special education services outside of Everett. In 2013, the EPS spent $6,950,138 in placements, compared to $5,493,861 this year.
“The Devens School has helped us on all fronts,” said Superintendent Foresteire. “It’s cost-effective, but much more than that — it allows dozens of our students to remain in their hometown, with their friends, in a caring environment staffed by professionals and specialists.”
In other areas of special education, the EPS has incurred significant unexpected costs this year. There are currently 97 Everett students enrolled in out-of-district programs, with per-student costs ranging from $45,000 to $345,000. Thirty of those students enrolled in the EPS for the 2017-18 school year. In fact, the week of February 5 saw the addition of 13 new special education students — 10 because the children turned three years old and are entitled to services, two who relocated to Everett from other cities, and one who moved to the city from another country.
In addition, the Department of Children and Families has placed nine students in the EPS, and the district is bound to fund 50 percent of the total cost of each student’s education.
“Our enrollment continues to climb higher and higher, and the research shows that the trend isn’t going to slow down, let alone reverse, any time soon,” Superintendent Foresteire said. “That means our budget is continually stretched.”
As an illustration of how fast the situation can change, Dr. Baldassarre informed central administration on Tuesday morning, less than 12 hours after Monday’s City Council meeting, that a student enrolled in the EPS who requires a nurse throughout the school day, a cost that will total more than $90,000 annually.