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School spending on disabled students unpredictable, often costly

Jamie Martines
| Sunday, June 18, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

School districts are required to provide “a free and appropriate education” to all students under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Providing those services can be expensive and hard to plan for, according to Janet Sardon, Yough School District superintendent.

For example, a new student could move into the district over the summer and require services ranging from a personal aide, which could cost a district about $30,000 per year, to attending classes off site, which could cost closer to $60,000 per year. The district must also absorb transportation costs for those students.

Almost one in five of the rural Westmoreland County district's 2,100 students are enrolled in special education services.

During the 2015-16 school year, Yough's special education costs were $4.4 million, about 13 percent of the total budget. The district received about $1.9 million in state and federal subsidies to offset the expense.

School officials in the Kiski Area School District face similar challenges. The district expects to spend about $6.8 million on special education costs during the 2017-18 school year, offset by about $2.6 million in subsidies.

“We always do what's best for the child educationally and just assume the cost as it comes in,” Kiski Superintendent Timothy Scott said.

Kiski Business Manager Peggy Gillespie said controlling these costs can be difficult because needs vary drastically by student. A student's individualized education plan, often called an IEP, outlines the services that the student needs and is entitled to and is agreed upon by teachers and parents.

“The subsidy has not kept pace with where the costs have gone,” Gillespie said.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-850-2867, or via Twitter at Jamie_Martines.

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