The Special Services Department Audit by Stetson & Associates, Inc. was presented to the Sparta Board of Education and its public on August 26, 2019 at the BOE’s public meeting. Both positive and negative outcomes were presented. The public received a thorough yet truncated version of the Stetson report. I had the privilege of reading the full 62 page report. Here are a few key observations:
According to the Stetson report*:
- 17.5% of the total student population are comprised of students with disabilities;
- While overall enrollment in the district has declined, enrollment in the percentage of students with disabilities has increased from 15.2%-17.5% over the three- year period the report reviewed.
- A clear interest in and commitment to safety, security, instructional excellence and improvement for all learners at all levels;
- A collaborative team approach supports the identification and services for students with disabilities through the Child Study Team Process;
- Sparta Township Public Schools are more than adequately staffed with special education teachers and teacher assistants.Two important ratios pulled from the 2018-2019 academic year are:
- The overall district ratio of students with disabilities (SWD)/Teacher is 8:1.
- The overall district ratio of student with disabilities (SWD)/Adult is 3:12;
- There are multiple inclusive opportunities for students with disabilities.
Areas of concern*:
- Fundamental beliefs by some faculty regarding inclusive practices that are incompatible with current research;
- The performance gaps in achievement for students with disabilities (as measured on NJ state assessments) when compared with all Sparta Township Public School students reveal a need for closer attention to the expectations, instructional practices and in the manner in which student achievement is monitored;
- Though a majority of parents of students with disabilities are highly satisfied with all aspects of special education services, attention to improving parent perceptions relative to staff competence, respectful interaction, and leadership support at the campus and district level is needed:
- Approximately 1/3 of parents surveyed did not agree with the statement they are supported by the school;
- Teacher Assistants are viewed as a positive resource for students with disabilities by many, however, there is a continued need for role clarity, training, professional development, examining the need for 1:1 teacher assistant, and issues of respect and appreciation for this faculty group;
- There is a need for a closer attention/scrutiny to efficient and effective management of fiscal resources relative to the provision of services for students with disabilities.
The Special Services Department expenses reflect a significant portion of the district’s overall budget:
- Operating Budget for 2017-2018 was $63,553,735;
- Instruction for regular program was $18,310,543 or 28.8% (for approx. 2,687 students);
- Instruction for special education $5,387,274 or 8.5% (for approx.. 502 students);
- Per pupil cost total was the second highest out of 6 comparative districts**:
- Sparta $17,236
- Madison $16,117
- Millburn Township $16,785
- Roxbury $17,937
- SD of the Chathams $14,788
My expectation is that this audit will provide a roadmap to further strengthen the special services department. The valuable data revealed in the Stetson report will allow the district to continue to improve upon its strengths and make advancements in its weaknesses. The special services professionals will now implement the many suggestions in the Stetson report with a clear guide as to how to proceed. Students who require special services will have an even further enhanced educational experience. Sparta’s special services department is one of the many things that sets Sparta apart from other districts. I look forward to seeing the suggested changes implemented and receiving an update in the future.
I am running for Sparta’s Board of Education with Kurt Morris and Niamh Grano. Please follow our Facebook page. We are #3, #4, and #5 on the ballot.
The above views are my own and do not reflect the views of the Sparta Board of Education.
*Evaluation of Services Provided to Students with Disabilities, Sparta Township Public Schools, 2018-2019, Stetson & Associates, Inc.
**New Jersey DOE User Friendly Budget Summaries 2017-2018