Special education in Wilton: Enrollment, employees and budgets

There are 567 special education students enrolled in Wilton public schools this year and 73 special education paraprofessionals, according to data provided by Ken Post, the school district’s director of financial planning and operations.

According to the data, Wilton special education student enrollment over the last 10 years has been:

  • 2006-07: 470.

  • 2007-08: 459.

  • 2008-09: 432.

  • 2009-10: 468.

  • 2010-11: 482.

  • 2011-12: 497.

  • 2012-13: 537.

  • 2013-14: 547.

  • 2014-15: 593.

  • 2015-16: 567.

According to the District Management Council (DMC)’s Special Education & Struggling Students Opportunities Review of the Wilton school district, released in June 2015, the district has “atypical amounts” of Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and Section 504 plans.

Section 504 is a civil rights statute in the Rehabilitation Act that requires “the needs of students with disabilities to be met as adequately as the needs of the non-disabled are met,” according to greatschools.org, while IEPs are written documents developed for public school students who are eligible for special education.

IEP referrals should diminish significantly by middle school, according to the DMC report, but in Wilton, IEP referrals “increase greatly in third grade and once again in eighth grade onward” despite “decreasing percentages of students found eligible for services.”

The DMC also found that half of all IEP referrals did not result in special education services, indicating “a misunderstanding of the intervention practices among schools [and] concerns over the increased rigor in higher grades.”

The Bulletin reached out to Ann Paul, assistant superintendent for special services, for comment on this DMC finding, but did not hear back.

Of the school employees interviewed during DMC’s review process, 75% of administrators and 47% of PPT staff said they disagree that “the criteria for IEP eligibility are clear and well understood by all involved,” according to the DMC report.

Furthermore, the report states, “both administrators and staff members expressed some concern about their understanding of the SRBI (Scientific Research-Based Intervention) and special education practices.”

The report also notes that “the sheer number of Section 504 plans” in the Wilton school district “may be an indication that both staff and parents may not have a clear understanding of the available interventions, nor a sense that the district is providing students needed extra interventions without a Section 504 plan.”

According to the DMC, the national average for students with Section 504 plans is roughly 1% of enrollment, but Wilton has five times that amount.

While kindergarten, second and third grade each aligned with the 1% national average, according to the DMC report, Wilton’s other grade levels had the following percentage of students with 504 plans at the time of the review:

  • Grade 1: 3%.

  • Grade 4: 3%.

  • Grade 5: 6%.

  • Grade 6: 5%.

  • Grade 7: 5%.

  • Grade 8: 3%.

  • Grade 9: 6%.

  • Grade 10: 6%.

  • Grade 11: 10%.

  • Grade 12: 11%.

Although the number of special education students declined by 26 since the last school year, the number of special education paraprofessionals remained the same at 73.

Special education paraprofessionals “work directly with students that have the need for additional monitoring during their classes,” according to Human Resources and General Administration Director Susan Paley, and their support is “delineated in students’ IEPs and relates primarily to assistance with staying on task or monitoring behavior.”

According to the DMC report, many districts nationwide have “reduced the use of special education paraprofessionals.”

Although the number of special education paraprofessionals in Wilton decreased from 76 in 2006-07 to 72 in 2009-10, it increased to 73 in 2009-10 and has since stayed at that level.

SPED payrolls

The budgeted payroll for special education staff this year is about 3.5% higher than it was last year — from  $3,368,801 in 2014-15 to $3,486,598 in 2015-16.

Over the last 10 years, the district has budgeted the following payroll amounts for certified and non-certified special education staff:

  • 2006-07: $4,342,384 certified, $2,397,784 non-certified.

  • 2007-08: $4,455,234 certified, $2,582,110 non-certified.

  • 2008-09: $4,733,895 certified, $2,746,635 non-certified.

  • 2009-10: $4,904,083 certified, $2,935,167 non-certified.

  • 2010-11: $4,867,380 certified, $2,944,995 non-certified.

  • 2011-12: $5,162,406 certified, $2,972,893 non-certified.

  • 2012-13: $5,363,341 certified, $3,058,561 non-certified.

  • 2013-14: $5,755,332 certified, $3,265,674 non-certified.

  • 2014-15: $6,263,073 certified, $3,368,801 non-certified.

  • 2015-16: $6,485,251 certified, $3,486,598 non-certified.

On top of their salaries, special education instructional leaders at all four schools each receive a $15,966.78 stipend this year and a $16,206.28 next year for 15 extra days of work, according to Wilton’s teacher contract, which expires June 30, 2017.

According to the DMC report, the average salaries and benefits for the 15 FTE (full-time equivalent staff) K-5 special education teachers last year was $122,000.

SPED budget

The special education budget increased from $18,448,143 in 2014-15 to $19,945,658 in 2015-16. Over the last 10 years, the district’s special education budget has increased approximately 82% — from $10,988,034 in 2006-07 to $19,945,658 in 2015-16, with the biggest increase in 2013-14 (8.77%).

Here are the special education budgets over the last 10 years:

  • 2006-07: $10,988,034.

  • 2007-08: $12,303,293.

  • 2008-09: $13,487,069.

  • 2009-10: $13,823,759.

  • 2010-11: $14,474,904.

  • 2011-12: $15,218,470.

  • 2012-13: $15,143,276.

  • 2013-14: $16,961,448.

  • 2014-15: $18,448,143.

  • 2015-16: $19,945,658.

The per-special-education-student cost has constantly exceeded the per-pupil cost for general education students over the last 10 years. In 2014-15, for example, the per-general-education-student cost was $18,317, while the cost per special education student was $31,110 — a difference of $12,793.

Since the 2006-07 school year, Wilton’s special education budget has increased at a higher rate each year than the number of enrolled special education students in the district.

In 2008-09, the number of special education students declined by 27, but the special education budget increased by about $1.2 million. Since then, special education student enrollment has grown yearly, until this year. Despite a special education enrollment decrease of 26 students, the 2015-16 special education budget increased by about $1.5 million.

FY17 budget

Of the $80,572,640 proposed school budget for 2016-17, 25% ($20,134,003) is devoted to special services, which reflects a 0.94% or $188,345 increase over the current special services budget.

Some of the special services salaries in the 2016-17 budget include:

  • Special education teachers for K-12 (32.01 FTE): $5,894,113.

  • Teacher paraprofessionals for K-12 (55.3 FTE): $2,081,201.

  • Special education clerical staff (4.5 FTE): $365,738.

  • Assistant superintendent of special services (1 FTE) and assistant special services director (1 FTE): $337,682.

  • Special education instructional leaders (4 FTE): $64,824.

On top of salaries, the budget allocates $250,000 to classified staff and $245,000 to certified staff for additional time spent during extended school year summer services, as mandated by IEPs.

The 2016-17 budget also allocates:

  • $200,000 for special education legal fees.

  • $193,114 for in-district special education transportation.

  • $50,000 for IEP/Section 504 annual software maintenance, digitization of student files and IEP direct repository.

  • $34,000 for test and evaluation supplies.

For outplacements, the proposed budget allocates $4,438,155, which breaks down as follows:

  • Transportation: $710,984.

  • Public tuition: $477,000.

  • Private tuition: $3,294,671.

  • Staff travel: $500.

The proposed outplacements budget reflects a per pupil expenditure of $128,090 and  a 1.1% increase over the current out-of-district placements budget ($4,434,532).

In recent years, the district has overspent its special services budgets. In 2013-14, the district spent $1,644,154 more than budgeted for special services and went over budget by $1,482,600 in 2014-15.

This year, the Wilton Public School District had a projected operating deficit of $535,509 as of the end of February, due to overages in special education outplacements and special education transportation.

The 2016-17 town budget, which includes the $80,572,640 school budget, and capital projects go to vote at the Annual Town Meeting on Tuesday, May 3, at 7:30 p.m., at the Clune Center. The adjourned vote will take place Saturday, May 7, from 9 to 6, at the Clune Center, 395 Danbury Road.