Bringing the city's special kids back 'home'

One of the overlooked aspects of Steven Adamowski's report to the State Board of Education last week were his concerns about the staggering amount of money the New London school system spends sending special education students out of district.

Adamowski is the "special master" appointed by the state to help New London turn around its academically struggling schools. The amount of money spent on sending these children elsewhere for their education and care got Adamowski's attention for a couple of reasons.

One is the fact New London can't afford to spend money it does not have. The out-of-district placements last year cost the school system about $6.8 million in tuition and transportation expenses, a staggering 17 percent of all education spending. In a city with a limited tax base that is hard pressed to find enough money for its schools, that's a lot.

Additionally, Adamowski worries about the kids.

"Educationally, these students are out-of-sight and out-of-mind and the quality of programs is often difficult to monitor," he wrote in his report.

The problem, according to Adamowski, is a lack of programs and space to house the students in the New London system.

"There is a pressing need for the District to develop and house high quality programs for many special education students who are currently outplaced," he stated.

Urban centers such as New London are always disproportionately challenged by high numbers of special education students. But by providing facilities and services within its system, Adamowski estimated New London Public Schools could save $2 million or more, while improving convenience for these students and their families.

The special master is requiring that during this school year the district develop special programs for these outplaced students and return as many "home" as possible. But it appears Adamowski is not on the same page with the board about how to do that.

In his report, the special master refers to utilizing available space at the Harbor School, no longer in use for regular classroom instruction due to new school construction in the city. And indeed, that idea was initially included in the strategic plan recently adopted by the New London Board of Education. At the last minute, however, the reference to Harbor was removed by the board in favor of a plan to "utilize an alternative site to expand our district's special education offerings." It's unclear whether Adamowski missed the change or opted to ignore it.

In any event, among the many challenges facing New London schools, this appears to be one that can be addressed in a reasonable time. That is unless the board gets bogged down agreeing on "an alternative site."

Paul Choiniere is editorial page editor.


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