Last year, Portland’s new school superintendent commissioned a study of the city’s special education program, following a negative review for the program by the state Department of Dducation.

Now Jim Morse is implementing a reorganization of Portland’s special education program that he says will make it more accountable to families and less expensive to operate.

This is an important step for Portland’s school department, and it comes at a crucial time. Portland has just completed a difficult budget process, in which programs were eliminated or scaled back and school employees were laid off. Because of an anticipated loss of federal funds, next year’s budget is expected to be even worse.

In this environment, it is crucial that all education programs are run in the most efficient manner, and there was considerable evidence that was not the case with special education.

The program moves forward with significantly fewer people. Fifteen positions were eliminated, including the one held by Barbara Dee, the director for the past nine years.

Teachers and case managers are receiving training now to do work that was done by administrators in the past. The goal is to make them more accountable to families for the service plans developed for students under their care.

What has taken place in special ed has been painful for employees and families, but it should also be seen as a model for how spending decisions should be made throughout the system. Schools today can only afford to use money wisely.


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