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Report: Norwalk’s special education program doesn’t compare well

Norwalk CREC report
The CREC Special Education Review of Norwalk Public Schools was presented last July.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk’s special education classes are understaffed and underfunded, according to a recent study, which is scheduled to be reviewed at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.

BOE Chairman Mike Lyons plans to have the report, a review done from February to July 2012, presented ‘warts and all,’ with nothing downplayed or discounted, by the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC) consultants who did it, according to a Norwalk SPED Partners newsletter.

The Parent Teacher Organization Council is also promoting the talk. “It’s essential that families (and teachers!) in the special-needs community show up at the meeting, where the presenter will discuss what we’ve known for a long time: Special ed in Norwalk is underfunded, is understaffed, and lacks the authority it requires to get things done even though they’re trying,” the PTOC website states.

Both organizations are trying to make a strong showing at the meeting to ensure that there is money in the next school budget to improve the situation.

“The bad news is that this is the third similar evaluation since 2007,” the PTOC website continues. “The good news is that the superintendent has built increased funding and staff into his proposal for the 2013-14 budget. However, the budget process is a long one, and the final budget may not match the proposal — unless we make ourselves heard throughout. Plus, structural issues related to decision-making authority are not addressed through budget, but through organizational change.”

Norwalk officials requested the report because they wanted to know how much progress had been made since CREC’s previous evaluation in 2008.

The first key finding of the report? “Overall, Norwalk is operating a very lean and under-funded special education program,” it states. “Norwalk’s percent of the budget spent on special education is less than the state and district reference groups (DRG) averages. In addition, the district budget figures that we used for the comparative study do not accurately reflect the actual special education expenditures. Sixteen percent of the 2011 budget is spent on general education expenses that would typically not be in a special education budget.”

The ratio of staff to students is much less than in comparable districts, a situation that was likely to become worse due to cuts in the 2012-2013 budget, the report says.

The system has improved since 2008, the report says, but “numerous inconsistencies among the schools continue to create problems of inequity of services and in communication among staff and between staff and parents.”

SPED Partners says the report shows that more support of special education is necessary.

“As recently as last year’s budget discussions, fingers were pointed at special education for being the source of the district’s financial woes,” the newsletter says. “This study proves that the special ed budget is far from being an inflated drag on the rest of the budget; in reality, the budget does not correctly represent what is used for special education and is actually being overstated.”

The meeting begins at 7:45 p.m. Tuesday in the Common Council chambers at City Hall.

“It’s time for action!” the PTOC says. “We need to attend this meeting, to learn from the presentation, and to speak up! We need specific commitments to make things happen.”

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