PORTLAND – One month after a consultants’ report called for an overhaul of special education, the school district here is still reeling.

It’s no wonder. Maine’s largest school district will spend $16 million on special education this year, including $1 million on out-of-district placements such as Sweetser and Spurwink and $1 million on administration.

That’s about 18 percent of the district’s $90 million budget, and the 1,300 students who receive special education services represent about 15 percent of the total school population.

The report by American Educational Consultants of Beachwood, Ohio, concluded that Portland could save $2.5 million on special education by restructuring its administration, cutting about 40 of 239 teaching jobs and creating a centralized process to make sure all students get the services they need.

Superintendent Jim Morse, who started in July, commissioned the $40,000 cost-benefit analysis in part because the special education program got a negative review from the Maine Department of Education in January 2009.

The consultants’ report is highly critical of Barbara Dee, the district’s special education director for nine years, saying that her inefficient leadership ”results in higher than necessary costs and lower than expected benefits with respect to student instruction.”

The report describes Dee as shirking responsibilities and blaming buildings for failing to implement best practices, among other things. Both Dee and Morse have declined to comment on the personal criticism of her, but they said they would work to implement the report’s recommendations.

While many teachers, parents and others have criticized the report for its tone, errors and contradictions, others say it represents districtwide problems that stem from a long-standing lack of oversight by the superintendent’s office.

The report’s impact could be felt most keenly on Wednesday, when Morse is expected to present his 2010-11 budget recommendation to the School Committee at 7 p.m. in Room 250 at Portland Arts and Technology High School.

Morse has warned that a projected $6 million reduction in state and federal funding in the coming year could result in as many as 120 layoffs, barring other budget cuts or a property tax increase.

Peter Eglinton, School Committee chairman, has assured school employees and others that the consultants’ report is only one of many pieces of information that will inform future budget decisions.

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: [email protected]