Special education funding a growing concern

Special education funding took centre stage at a special meeting of the Rainy River District School Board here last Wednesday night as trustees examined problems in getting these exceptional students approved by the province.
“Underfunding of special education is being experienced across the province. It is being exacerbated by the [Intensive Support Assessment] process,” Superintendent of Education Terry Ellwood told the board.
The ISA process is an assessment of special needs students to determine what level of assistance they require.
The province awards a school board $27,000 for a Level 3 student, someone who needs assistance more than 80 percent of the school day, or $12,000 for a Level 2 student who needs extra help for more than half the day.
The assessment includes an evaluation of the student by a psychologist, but Ellwood said school boards in the north are having problems completing this because there aren’t enough psychologists to go around.
“We just finished Round 3 and nine applications had to be withdrawn because they weren’t completed,” Ellwood told the board.
Trustee Martin Darrah noted the same psychologists are doing assessments for Dryden, Kenora, and Sioux Lookout.
“I think it’s very unfortunate that we can’t get the assessments done because we don’t have the professional people here,” agreed trustee Judy Eluik.
“People at other boards can’t believe we don’t have a psychologist to do this,” she added, noting many boards have a psychologist on staff to complete these assessments.
“The playing field isn’t level,” she stressed.
The final round of ISA evaluations for the school board is set to take place this November.
So far, Ellwood said 90 percent of the assessments completed by the board are being accepted. But he warned that even if all remaining assessments are completed and approved, that doesn’t mean the board will get the money it needs to fund the special education program.
The province already has pre-determined a funding cap for special education.
“We are being validated at a huge rate, but now we are approaching the number of claims it would take to go beyond the frozen funding allowance,” Ellwood said.
Moving beyond the funding cap is called “piercing the cap” and Ellwood said the board is very close to doing that.
In the 2002-03 budget, approved at last week’s meeting, the board intends to spend $670,000 more on special education than the province has earmarked for the program.
Ellwood said no matter what happens, the board remains committed to providing for all its special needs children.
“ It is our responsibility to provide for that student and [approved or not], the board would still run the program that student needs,” he pledged.
Also at last week’s meeting, the board:
•approved a rental agreement with the Fort Frances Nursery School; and
•approved Bylaw #153 for approval to issue 2002 education taxes within the board’s jurisdiction and in the unorganized areas.