PORTLAND – Special education programs in the city’s public schools will be reorganized this summer to address problems that were identified in a recent consultant report, Superintendent Jim Morse said Thursday.

Morse has hired Bonnie Violette, special services coordinator in neighboring Westbrook, as a consultant to help ensure that special education programs are offered consistently and equitably across Maine’s largest school district.

Violette is working with Lynn Silva, assistant director of special education, and Chris Kaufman, head school psychologist, to establish a new structure for special education staffing and services, including clear job and program descriptions.

“It’s going to create accountability to students and parents, to the district and to the state,” Morse said. “It’s going to explain exactly what we do and what we get for our money.”

Violette was hired to help with the reorganization because she is known statewide for her expertise in special education administration and the procedures defined in state and federal regulations, Kaufman said. Her salary as a consultant will be covered by federal economic recovery funding, Morse said.

American Educational Consultants of Beachwood, Ohio, issued a report on Portland’s special education programs in January. It concluded that the district 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.

Portland spent $16 million on special education in this school year, including $1 million for out-of-district placements with agencies such as Sweetser and Spurwink and $1 million on administration.

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

Morse, who became superintendent a year ago, 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 was highly critical of Barbara Dee, who had been the district’s special education director for nine years.

Morse has since eliminated the director’s position and put Silva and Kaufman in charge of special education programs during the reorganization.

The school budget that starts July 1 eliminated 14 additional special education positions, including several learning strategists, who coordinated students’ screenings and wrote individual service plans.

That work will now be done by special education teachers and case managers, as it is in most other districts, and will be the focus of special training sessions before school starts in September, Kaufman said.

The reorganization also will establish consistent processes and written manuals for evaluating students, developing individual service plans and tracking students’ progress.

“There is a strong determination to address concerns in the (consultants’) report,” Kaufman said. “The superintendent really is asking for high levels of accountability.”

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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