A group of parents of special needs students came before the Bryan Board of Education Monday in order to affirm their commitment to working with the district to resolve budget issues surrounding the district’s growing number of special needs students, a trend seen nationwide.
The board informally agreed to work with parents, specifically the Special Needs Active Parents (SNAP) group, to explore potential solutions moving forward.
Both sides asserted that the students themselves are in no way the problem, and noted that was not the insinuation anyone intended in past discussions. The board also reaffirmed that cuts were not being explored.
The idea of a special needs booster club, as put forth by speaker Tiffany Carwile, received informal but enthusiastic support from new district Treasurer Kevin Schafer following the meeting.
“We’d like to tackle these issues and come together with the board, the district, and find ways to meet in the middle. If there’s an issue, we’d like to help address it and maybe put forth efforts to do fundraising for our community and our kids,” said Carwile, also highlighting her wish to also promote inclusion and acceptance.
“If there’s an issue with the budget, we want to help. We want what’s best for our kids and for them to have everything they need to thrive. We’re all together in this ... We want to ally with you.”
The board responded with willingness to collaborate.
“We appreciate you coming before the board and letting us know where you stand,” said Board President Cindra Keeler. “At this point in time, I don’t know how we can work together, but I’m sure there’s something that will work as we talk with the superintendent.”
Bryan and many other school districts nationwide can increasingly cite special needs costs as one of their fastest growing areas of expense, along with increased security costs in recent years, both vital to the functioning of school systems.
In February, Bryan City Schools Superintendent Diana Savage noted that the special education program’s total cost was $5.2 million for the 2017-18 school year. And although the district has seen a $150,000 increase in supplementary federal grants ($553,000 total) for special needs students, costs have gone up $1.5 million over the same five-year period.
Eighteen percent of BCS’s student population is enrolled in the special education program, compared to 13 percent of all students nationally, according to U.S. the Department of Education.
Costs of additional staffing mandated by the state that have been highlighted include one full-time staff member per 25 students, aides, social workers, bus supervision, plus special equipment and facilities, increases in hours, trips to and enrollment in special supervision programs and gifted programming.
Thirty years ago, the federal government agreed to pay a 40-percent share of funding for special education via the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. However, the federal government has yet to hit that mark, leaving local entities looking for ways to cover the cost.
New band director
The board also approved hire of new band director Stephanie DePauw.
DePauw is a recent graduate of Bowling Green State University where she participated in the BGSU marching band, was a member of the undergraduate staff for the BGSU marching band and completed her student teaching experiences for grades six to 12 band.
“I am thrilled to be offered this opportunity and can’t wait to be a part of a very well-established program,” DePauw said in a prepared release. “I am humbled by the strong support for the arts within the school system and community. I look forward to carrying on Golden Bear traditions and providing students a wonderful musical experience.”
DePauw replaces longtime band director Richard Will, whose retirement was approved at the May board of education meeting.
“We are excited for Ms. DePauw to join our team and are very thankful to Mr. Richard Will for the establishment of a wonderful instrumental program that Ms. DePauw will take over,” said Mark Rairigh, Bryan director of secondary education, in a prepared statement.
In other action Monday, the board:
• Presented Vietnam-era military veteran William Burns with his high school diploma. Burns’ story will be detailed in Wednesday’s edition of The Bryan Times.
• Heard the general fund stands at $13,476,975, the permanent improvement fund at $1,597,197 with total funds on hand at $17,489,212.
• Approved hire of incoming treasurer/CFO Kevin Schafer as a consultant, effective July 8, and officially approved retirement of treasurer/CFO Rob Rosswurm.
• Approved donations including $480 to the high school golf program from Bryan Athletic Booster Club and $325 to the Butterfly Garden Project from John and Joy Betts, and paint to the ceramics classes from Carol Sharp.
• Heard the district’s tennis court project is awaiting city approval of site plans. The goal is for work to start yet this month and be completed by Labor Day, barring significant weather issues. Board member Thomas Lingvai indicated a desire to ensure that none of the trees in the court’s proposed area between the two school buildings were memorial trees and ensure their relocation, if they are.
• Approved a contract for speech services with Stryker Local Schools, to supplement Bryan’s two full-time employees.
• Approved one-year limited teaching contracts for Paige Gansmiller, third and fourth grade intervention specialist, and Garret Gleckler, middle and high school guidance counselor.
• Approved the resignation of Betsy Smith, co-weight room coordinator, effective May 30.
• Went into executive session to discuss employment related matters with no action expected upon returning to regular session.