In order to most effectively support Brunswick’s students, the School Department’s 2021-22 budget was designed to focus on four primary areas: special education, mental health and wellness, capital projects and technology.

Phil Potenziano is the superintendent of Brunswick School Department. You can follow him on Twitter @PhilPotenziano and Instagram at Brunswickmesup.

Special education, which is one of the most important but least understood aspects of public education, is a significant driver of this budget proposal.

Special education was created by the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (later renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) to ensure public schools provide specially designed instruction, at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities.

As a result of this federal mandate, public schools must provide those students with a variety of special education and related services, including specially designed instruction, occupational therapy, social work and special transportation, to support their educational progress. Student programs must also include individual accommodations such as alternative seating and adult support to ensure they can access the general education curriculum.

Brunswick’s special education budget, like statewide special education costs, continues to increase for several reasons, the most significant of which are related to changes in Brunswick’s population of children with disabilities. Indeed, the overall number of students with disabilities has grown each year due to an increase in student transfers, incoming kindergarteners who already receive special education services and special education referrals throughout the year. Additionally, these children’s needs are also intensifying, as reflected in the increasing numbers of children requiring placement in Brunswick’s self-contained behavior and life skills programs.

To break it down into some basic numbers:

• 394 students in Brunswick, approximately 17.14% of the total student population, receive special education services.

• The number of special education students in Brunswick is projected to reach approximately 422 during the next school year.

• 28% of the population of students with disabilities require self-contained (the highest level of service available in public school) programming for some or all of their school day.

Correspondingly, Brunswick must provide appropriate and equitable educational programs to this increased number of students in the least restrictive environment possible. To support these efforts, we have identified strategic changes that will help maximize efficiency and control long-term costs while maintaining and improving the level of services. These changes include eliminating certain positions, adding some positions and, most importantly, developing the local special education team’s capacity by reallocating money previously spent on contracted resources to employed positions and professional development.

These efforts will enable Brunswick to:

1. Better support students and families throughout transitions between schools and programs.

2. Increase special education teachers’ available time for planning and delivery by reducing their paperwork.

3. Adopt a responsive, collaborative infrastructure to support team development and enhance the quality of service.

Why the investments? Special education is more than budget numbers and statistics; it is a vital part of a healthy community. Perhaps these words of wisdom from one of Brunswick’s special education teachers sum it up best: “Special education helps all students, from a young age, understand and accept differences in people and carry this acceptance with them as they become active members of their communities.”

When we support all of our students’ abilities to grow to their fullest potential, the doors of future possibilities are open for them to become adults who learn to eliminate obstacles, pursue dreams, learn to believe in themselves and find their inner heroes.

That kind of achievement simply can’t be captured in a budget line item.

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