Janesville41.2°

Special education gets boost from feds

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
July 25, 2009
— Federal stimulus money will give a big boost to Janesville students who struggle the most with their studies.

The Janesville School Board will take a look at a plan to spend the $2.4 million grant when it meets Tuesday night.


Board members at their July 14 meeting asked for more information on the spending plan, so a more detailed report will come to the board Tuesday.


Students with disabilities make up about 16 percent of the district’s 10,000-plus enrollment. A plan proposed by the district administration would help those students but also students who are falling so far behind that they’re in danger of becoming special-education students.


The district has been addressing this problem for several years with something called Response to Intervention, or RtI. Kids who aren’t keeping up are identified and assigned alternative ways of learning to help them catch up.


“RtI is a major change in thinking, a huge initiative. We’ve been chipping away at it for about four years,” but not all staff members are up to speed, especially at the high schools, Superintendent Karen Schulte said.


“I love this model. I think it’s the right thing to do for kids, but it costs a lot of money,” she said.


Those costly “interventions” might be a computer program that drills them on math skills or a series of readings and exercises designed to increase their reading proficiency.


The stimulus-spending plan includes $105,141 for a Response to Intervention coach/supervisor, whose job would last only two years.


Other spending in the plan calls for more than $200,000 to train teachers and other staff in a variety programs, including Response to Intervention.


Several hundred thousand dollars are earmarked for instructional technology and supplies, much of it to provide those specialized programs that will help students who need the extra help, Schulte said.


The plan was put together by a task force of teachers and principals who were charged with finding ways to improve student achievement, Schulte said.


The district has had difficulties getting its students with disabilities to meet No Child Left Behind improvement standards, so the hope is that this spending will help, Schulte said.


“The end result is that at least all students will function at grade level, at least, and that’s what’s most important,” Schulte said.


A memo prepared for the board lists uses for about $1 million of the grant to begin immediately or at the beginning of the school year.


The administration is waiting to unveil the rest of the plan when it presents its annual budget proposal in September, Schulte said.


Part of the grant could be used to plug other holes in the 2009-10 budget, but how much of the grant might be needed won’t be known until the district’s financial staff runs the numbers, Schulte said.


Exactly what the budget hole will be depends on how much the school board is willing to raise taxes. The board has been talking for months about a small tax increase or having no tax increase at all.


Special ed has been under-funded for years, Schulte said, “so this is a chance to catch up a little bit with our students with disabilities.”


ON THE AGENDA


The Janesville School Board meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Educational Services Center, 527 S. Franklin St. Agenda items include:


- A vote on the recommended discontinuing of the All-City Sing.


- Discussion of the proposed 2009-10 budget the formation of a boundary-line committee.


- First readings on new policies that require reporting and related procedures for bullying and threats to students.


- First readings of revisions to policies on visitors in schools, volunteers in schools, purchasing and financial conflicts of interest



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