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Darien Director of Special Education budgets a bit differently

Published 12:16 pm, Sunday, January 20, 2013
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Director of Special Education Deirdre Osypuk budgeted a bit differently this year than in others, and as a result, the proposed budget is decreasing by .045 percent, or $78,736, to $17,284,720.

The four ideas that Osypuk looked at before creating the budget were:

Aligning the budget with the department's vision;

Budgeting differently;

Examining trends over past years;

Conducting a current District Reference Group A comparison;

Osypuk said the idea is to promote independence, empower and not enable students, better train teachers so they won't rely too much on consultants and to be fiscally responsible for the community.

"We want to equip our teachers, those people who are closest and work most frequently with our students, to make sure teachers are better equipped to meet the diverse needs of our students," Osypuk said.

The professional development component is proposed to increase from $9,750 to $49,142. The money would cover the training of all special education teachers in specific reading programs such as Wilson, Lindamood-Bell and Orton-Gillingham, and in reading, writing and math workshops. It would also cover training all psychologists on the administration of autism diagnostic instruments.

"We want to makes sure we're diagnosing accurately," Osypuk said,

One accounting change, which would not affect students, includes using special education grants for salaries and benefits only. Doing so would eliminate splitting full-time employees between grants and the general budget, which would result in more accurate accounting personnel.

Osypuk also wants to assign staff effectively and efficiently to eliminate redundancies, increase consistency of service delivery among staff to students and to be cost effective.

"We want to ensure that the primary role of all staff members is to work directly with students," Osypuk said.

She offered some ways to achieve that goal:

Examine whether reallocation of teacher aides can fulfill the individualized education plan needs of students when attrition occurs instead of automatically filling the position with a new hire;

Use district-employed speech pathologists to provide services for students who are placed out of district instead of relying on private providers;

Use district-employed teachers with experience with the hearing impaired to provide some audition -- the ability to perceive sound by detecting vibrations through the ear -- services to students with hearing impairments instead of relying solely on contracted services;

Use Board of Education services for the blind to provide some orientation/mobility services to students with visual impairments instead of relying on private providers.

Osypuk proposed that the district move to an hourly rate of $66 for an occupational therapist without decreasing the full-time employment of the occupational therapists out of district.

"If the OT has to provide more hours than they're currently providing, it would cost more, but in my opinion that risk is minimal," Osypuk said. The district now has fixed rates for OTs that provide help six to eight hours a day.

"The impact on students is that they will receive more consistent service from those who work with them most frequently and receive the same level of quality, if not better, to fulfill their IEPs," Osypuk said.

Another of Osypuk's goals is to ensure accurate eligibility decisions and identification of educational disabilities. Is the district labeling students appropriately?

"We want to make sure that students who qualify receive the necessary services" Osypuk said.

A few ways to achieve that goal are to refine testing inventory to include only school-based evaluation measures, like an IQ test, and to provide professional development to the district's evaluators in terms of eligibility criteria and how to diagnose each of the 14 disability categories.

"We have to administer (IQ tests) to identify students with intellectual disabilities," Osypuk said. "A clinical measure that is not necessary to identify students in one of the 14 categories."

Board of Education Chairman Elizabeth Hagerty-Ross said Osypuk gave a thorough presentation on where money was moving, and said she thinks it's a step in the right direction.

mdavis@bcnnew.com; 203-972-4407; twitter.com/megdariennews