ASSISTANT SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT Pender Makin addresses the school board about the benefits of the district taking over the REAL School.

ASSISTANT SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT Pender Makin addresses the school board about the benefits of the district taking over the REAL School.

BRUNSWICK

After seeking to begin their own program for years, the Brunswick School District will now operate its own special education day treatment program, filling a void left with the impending closure of a REAL School campus.

Students attending the program are those who would not necessarily be appropriate for established special education classes in the district.

According its website, REAL School serves “students who have not been successful in other school settings, and who require a highly personalized, hands-on school experience,” as well as “students who require specialized instruction and clinical mental health treatment throughout their school days.”

Maine special education law requires all students be given a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. In some cases, that environment is in an out of district placement that can cost the sending district between $42,000 and $52,000 per year, plus transportation costs.

“We have to provide for our students who are out of district and either we’re paying for that service — contracting it through the out of district placement — in some cases we’re using taxi cabs,” said Assistant Superintendent Pender Makin.

Brunswick currently has 14 students in out of district placements.

According to Makin, as discussions continued in Brunswick regarding “biting the bullet” and launching their own program, an established program, the REAL School in Falmouth was told by RSU 14 that the Mackworth Island campus was to be shuttered in June.

Makin said that the REAL School had done such a good job with the RSU 14 students that all of their own kids have since transitioned back to their own schools, leaving the district with about 35 out of district students and a program to manage.

RSU 14 decided the program was no longer serving their district’s needs and as of March 11, had told staff and families of the closure.

At that point, School District Business Manager Jim Oikle explored whether it was feasible for Brunswick to take on the program.

Oikle concluded that the district could not only run the REAL School as a cost-neutral program, but by attracting more out of district students, Brunswick taxpayers could see a financial benefit from the school.

With an operating cost of about $1.7 million and students currently attending the REAL School from other districts, Oikle said revenues would be in the ballpark of $2 million, offering a potential of $300,000 back to the taxpayers.

The program would be run as an enterprise project and therefore would not be part of the Brunswick school budget process. There are currently 28 to 30 districts sending students to the REAL School at a tuition rate of $42,000 per year.

Makin said the first year of operation would likely remain at the Mackworth Island location, but the district would like to move it to Brunswick — possibly to Brunswick Landing.

Makin described the program as a turnkey operation with a trained cohort of staff, students, and all the infrastructure that otherwise would have added up to a hefty price tag for Brunswick had they invested in their own startup program.

Additionally, Brunswick curriculum can be taught with district oversight, making transitions back to regular programming smoother. Currently, students who go to out of district placement have difficulty transitioning back to their home district due to inconsistency in programming.

Makin was director of the REAL School for 13 years, and Superintendent Paul Perzanoski spent several years in a similar program.

The Brunswick School Board voted unanimously in favor of the program during a recent meeting.

Makin said the school, which currently runs grades seven through 12, will be expanded to grades three through 12.

Board member Teresa Gillis became emotional while lending her support to the program.

“If there’s an opportunity that we can help a child — any child and wrap our arms around them and show them that we want them to be a part of our community … I would do anything to show even one child that,” Gillis said.


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