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School Committee approves special education classroom for HES

Starting next year, Hildreth Elementary School will again have a dedicated special education classroom, reducing the need for out-of-district placements. In a unanimous vote this week, the School Committee supported the proposal, which was put forward by School Superintendent Linda Dwight, Pupil Services Director Marie Harrington, and HES Principal Josh Myler.

The issue had been discussed previously at the School Committee’s April 27 meeting. “We are sending more students out of district than we need to,” Dwight said then, pointing out that the costs of sending a student out of district had skyrocketed this past school year. The long-term goal, Dwight said, was to make the district more inclusive and to better serve all its students. She said HES had formerly had a special education classroom, but it was discontinued some years ago.

However, at that meeting School Committee Chair John Ruark had said that, while the proposal would have been “a total slam dunk” most years, current concerns about state aid cuts and the local override made this a bad time to add staff. He asked the school administrators to come back with cost figures, which they did this week.

Harrington presented figures for both in-district and out-of-district costs, showing that the proposed classroom—with a lead teacher, a learning assistant, and other support—would be cost neutral if it kept four students within the district who would otherwise have required outplacement. With five or more students, the savings would rise. Dwight said the capacity of the room would likely be eight to 10 students.

Dwight said the proposal had the support of Select Board Chair Alice von Loesecke and Finance Committee Chair Don Ludwig, as members of the special committee formed recently to deal with the town’s budget crisis. “Bringing it [the special education classroom] into the district is a known cost,” Dwight said, “while out-of-district costs can rise without any notice to us.”

With the numbers in hand, the committee moved on to vote in favor of the proposal.

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