The Elizabethtown Area School District may take over the operation of two autistic support programs, one at the middle school and one at the high school, that are currently run by the Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13.
While the IU13 offers quality special education services, the move would save the district money and provide more control over programming, administrators told the school board.
Monica Steward, supervisor of special education, and Richard Schwarzman, assistant to the superintendent for student support services and compliance, briefed the school board on the change at its meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 12. According to their presentation, the district began taking over classes run by the IU13 starting in 1997.
In 2001, emotional support classes for grades four through 12 became district-run. In 2008, the district took over autistic support classes for grades kindergarten through six. In 2016, the district added a K-3 emotional support class and a second K-3 autistic support class.
Over the past five years, the number of special education students has increased by 10 percent, from 527 to 581, as of Dec. 5. There are also more students with higher expenditures, meaning they require more services.
For instance, last school year, 45 students each received between $25,425 and $50,849.99 in services, compared to 11 the year before. There were also nine (eight the year before) receiving at least $76,275 in services, including one at $100,000. (It costs about $15,000 for a regular education student.)
Steward said that, since she started with the district in 1997, the number of autistic students has jumped from 2 to 71 currently.
“These are students who have a wide range of needs,” Steward said. Many are included in regular education classes.
Steward estimated that next year, nine of the 16 students in the middle and high school autism programs will be Elizabethtown students; the other seats would be sold to other districts.
Steward and Schwarzman shared that an IU program for nine autistic students would cost $629,925, with each additional student costing $58,875, whereas a district-run program for 16 autistic students next year would cost $594,132.
Board member Craig Hummer bemoaned the lack of state and federal monetary support for mandated special education spending, but said that funding such costs is not only an obligation but “it’s the right thing to do.”
“It’s a big expense up front, but we are really seeing the return with our students getting really good jobs,” said Steward.
The decision to take back the classes will be made in January during budget deliberations.
In other business, Business Manager George Longridge gave an update on the 2018-19 budget process. He referred to Act 1, the state law that limits property tax increases. Next year’s Act 1 index for Elizabethtown is 3 percent. However, because of the countywide reassessment, the district could possibly use last year’s index, 3.2 percent, but that hasn’t been determined yet, he said. The district could exceed the index by seeking exceptions for special education and pension costs.
Longridge showed that a 3 percent tax increase would yield $980,844 in additional revenue. For a house assessed at $100,000, it would be an additional $63 a year. A 3.2 percent increase would yield an additional $1,046,757; for the same home, it would mean $67 more a year.
The board must vote Jan. 23 to display a preliminary budget, to be voted on Feb. 13. The proposed final budget will be up for a vote on May 8, with the final vote on June 12.
In approving the personnel report, the board voted to hire former high school principal Dan Serfass as assistant to the superintendent for learning. Starting in June, he will replace Amanda Hann, who is taking a position with the Donegal School District.
The board also approved the 2017-18 wage and salary report for district staff.
In addition, the board approved a proposal to place American Eagle clothing recycling bins at each school building. The district will get $100 a month per bin.