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Special Education Staffing Change in New York District Drains Contingency Fund

A shift in the way the Rochester, N.Y., district staffs its special education classrooms has led to nearly $5 million in unexpected costs for the 32,000-student district, according to an article by Justin Murphy of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

The district was trying to shift from a model where general and special education teachers work together in a classroom to broader use of a "consultant" model, where one special-education teacher provides less intensive services to students in several classrooms, according to the Oct. 13 article. 

The district budgeted for an even split between the co-taught and consultant models, but far fewer students were assigned to the consultant model than was expected. That means the district has many more educators in the co-teaching model than it planned for. Also, from the story:  

To make matters worse, the district took in 284 new special education students from July 1, when the new budget went into effect, to the beginning of the school year, an unusually large post-budget influx.

All the extra staffing, plus other unforeseen staff increases elsewhere in the district, mean the district has committed about $8.8 million more than it planned to, Superintendent Bolgen Vargas told the school board last week.

It has recouped some of that money through additional grant funding and belt-tightening elsewhere, but it's still $4.8 million over budget, and the contingency budget—the amount of money set aside for unforeseen expenses—is only $5 million.

The district's special education director has said he expects more students to be assigned to consultant teachers for the 2015-16 school year, because that instructional method will be more familiar. 

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