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Special-education costs rising

Molly Shore

The Burbank Unified School District spent more than $15 million

during the 2002-03 school year to educate nearly 1,800 students with

special needs, including those who travel outside the district and

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state to receive instruction.

While the state typically foots the bill for special education,

the district had to come up with more than $3 million to pay for

programs and services after Gov. Gray Davis deferred funds because of

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the state budget crisis, district officials said.

In all, the district spent $3,122,407 on special education,

including nearly $1 million for transportation outside the district,

said Steve Bradley, BUSD assistant superintendent of business

service.

Of the district’s 1,750 special- education students, 19 went

outside the district for instruction and seven were sent out of

state, according to Sandra Gaynon, the district’s director of

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special-education and psychological services.

The district paid out-of-state facilities $146,414 for the seven students, two of whom remain in facilities in Texas and Utah.

Students are placed out of state only when there is a need for

24-hour supervision in cases where they are runaways or could be

considered dangerous to themselves or others, she said.

Gaynon said out-of-state tuition at facilities equipped to handle

the needs of special education students is $1,000 to $1,500 per child

less than it would be in California.

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“In California, you cannot keep a child against his will in a

facility, but you can in other states,” Supt. Gregory Bowman said.

“That’s a decision you make with the parent.”

The district, meanwhile, is obligated by law to pay for parents to

travel to and from out-of-state facilities twice a year to visit

their children. The cost for their lodging also is paid by the

district.

Joy Peterson, a senior attendance technician at John Burroughs

High School, is among those who believe the money the district spends

to send students outside the district and state for special education

could be better spent, or at least reevaluated, in light of the

budget deficit.

“Surely we have sites closer to Burbank where we can send the

children,” Peterson told school board members last month. “I do not

understand the need to use a site in Arizona, another one in Texas,

another one in Utah, and I believe another one in Redwood City.”

The district, which is attempting to counter a projected

$3-million budget deficit for 2003-04, is considering several cuts to

special education to help balance its budget.

The district’s budget committee has recommended eliminating a

program specialist, a savings of $101,716. Bowman has recommended

reducing the number of special-education psychologists by

one-and-a-half, which would save the district more than $163,000.

“The district, when it negotiates the [special-education] costs

for the coming year, needs to make sure the amount billed [by the

state] more closely approximates the cost it takes to have that

student in the program,” said Debbie Kukta, chairwoman of the budget

committee. The committee is charged with making budget-reduction

recommendations to the school board.


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