Champlain Valley Tech building trades instructor Kevin Shaw, left, shakes hands with students at the June dedication of the renovated Moriah court house. Classes from Yandon Dillon Educational Center in Mineville built the addition to the court house for the town.
Officials at Champlain Valley Educational Services knew some time ago they would once again be forced to cut positions as local school officials pulled back special education students to save money.
Still, the numbers are jolting, a total of 84 layoffs approved from February 2012 until June 2012.
“Those are all employees who will not be returning as of Sept. 1,” said Rachel Rissetto, CVES director of human services.
Roughly a year ago, CVES was forced to eliminate 93.5 positions, again, largely due to districts pulling special education students back. A few of those positions were reinstated, but the majority remained vacant.
CVES officials stressed that they will continue to offer the same programs, just fewer sections of them. At the same time, CVES, which offers technical training and special-education services to 17 school districts in Clinton, Essex, Warren and Washington counties, plans to provide at least two new programs under its special education wing.
“I certainly think our special education division is evolving based on our districts’ future needs,” Rissetto said. “That is absolutely not a bad thing. I think we will continue to respond to the needs of our districts, and as their needs change, the services we provide will change.”
Rising special education costs have long been a burden for area school districts. When the federal government passed legislation in 1975 ensuring all disabled students received a public education, it had indicated it would reimburse 40 percent of the costs, but to this day that figure has hardly reached 14 percent.
The majority of school officials and the public agree such students should be educated and provided the resources required to participate in and benefit from that education, but the cost burden largely falls on schools and local taxpayer’s shoulders.
CVES, in some instances, has been better equipped to provide special education services to area children.
However, rising costs and inadequate aid over the past few years have caused school officials to return special education students from CVES to the districts in an attempt to provide them with services at a lower cost.
Parents and concerned educators have said some districts do this well, while others are not providing special education students with adequate services now. Parents wonder how a district that previously said it did not have the resources to educate their children will be able to do so now with less money.
The most recent reductions at CVES, which are a direct result of these pull-backs, will impact administrators, faculty, teaching assistants, clerical and support staff.
“In the fall, we will have fewer numbers in the programs we offer,” said Roxanne Pombrio, CVES director of special education. “For example, we now have four 6-1-1 classrooms, and in the fall we will have two. The class will run just as it does currently. If a student needs an aid, that student will have an aid.
“The students we have remaining will still get the same level of service.”
This year, the special-education department provided services to 209 students, and this fall that number will drop to around 130.
Despite the cuts, CVES is planning to offer two new programs in response to needs expressed by area special education directors.
The first is a Day Treatment Program, which would serve students with severe mental-health disabilities. This program could prevent them from being shipped out of the area and away from their families, and should be in place halfway through the 2012-13 school year.
The second is a Job Target Program, which would provide special-education students with training in fields such as food-service, hospitality and manufacturing. The hands-on program could be in place by the 2013-14 school year.
“There are a number of hotels and factories in the area,” Pombrio said. “Once they leave this program, hopefully they will have employment opportunities.”