School Budget Review Shows District Spends $1.5M on Special Ed Tuition

School Committee member Paul A. Magliocchetti.

The Haverhill School Department plans to spend $1.5 million to send 77 special-education students to programs outside the district next year, an amount that School Committee President Gail M. Sullivan would like to see reduced.

Sullivan said she was taken aback by the fact that the expense for tuition is nearly equal to the amount the district expects to spend next year, $1.64 million, on raises for all the city’s teachers.

Committee members on Thursday took a closer look at out-of-district placements and professional development spending as they continued their review of the $179 million Fiscal Year 2018 budget proposed by Superintendent James F. Scully.

The committee is scheduled to present its completed budget to the City Council on June 5. It will take effect on July 1.

Special Education Director Kyle Riley said the number of students in out-of-district placements is average for an urban district of Haverhill’s size.

The Special Education program works to keep or return students to the district when it’s possible, Riley said, but there are times when the students’ needs exceed the district’s ability to provide appropriate services.

There are times, however, that the school department can create programs or hire staff to make it possible for students to return. For example, the city was able to hire a teacher and interpreter for deaf students and eliminate roughly $200,000 in tuition to the Beverly School for the Deaf. The district’s expenditure was about $120,000, Riley said.

One of the obstacles to keeping students in-district is the city’s class sizes and teacher/student ratios.

In many of the private and collaborative programs that city students attend, there are three or four adults in a classroom with five or six students, Riley said. That is a number that a public school can’t match.

Riley praised the HALT and TEACH programs at St. James School with allowing a number of students to remain or return to the district. The two programs serve students with behavioral, emotional and intellectual challenges.

In its review of planned expenditures for professional development, School Committee members looked for ways to increase what the district spends.

Scully’s proposed budget calls for $30,000 to pay for teacher training. However, Business Manager Brian O’Connell said the district spent 10 times that amount last year, thanks to $285,000 it received in grants.

O’Connell anticipates receiving a comparable amount in the coming year, but Sullivan was skeptical.

“Past performance is no indication of future performance. We have no guarantee as to how much money we will be receiving,” Sullivan said. She said proposed cuts in education funding on the federal level could reduce or eliminate the grant money Haverhill normally receives.

School Committee member Paul A. Magliocchetti said he prefers to see the amount dedicated to professional development increased in the district’s operating budget.

“You’ve got to give people the tools they need to get the job done,” he said.

Mayor James J. Fiorentini, the School Committee’s chairman, said he would rather see the district’s resources go toward reducing the dropout rate, improving students’ reading performance, expanding early childhood education and reducing class sizes.