School isn't easy for Linda Donahue's 11-year-old son, who falls on the autism and bipolar spectrum and is prone to emotional meltdowns.

Year-round services provide the boy structure and normalize his life some, but that's vanishing with Champlain Valley Educational Services summer school special-education program.

"This is insane in my book," said Donahue, "and the children are the ones who suffer."

'NOT COST EFFECTIVE'

School districts mandated to provide special-education services are lost in the wake of CVES's announcement that funding limitations have ended its history of providing summer school special-ed services.

"It is not cost effective or practical to expect individual districts to put together such summer programs when there might only be a handful of children for the program," said Peru Central School Superintendent A. Paul Scott.

The school-age summer school operates under a limited state funding methodology, a lengthy and untimely waiver process and Education Law that restricts the ability of CVES to pursue alternative cost-reimbursement options, said Craig King, CVES district superintendent.

"As a result of these complexities, CVES will no longer be able to provide special education school-age summer school programs after 2010," King wrote in a letter to State Education Commissioner Dr. David Steiner.

COST WILL TRANSFER

King suggested that in the long term, the state change laws to enable CVES to charge school districts an amount that would allow the program to avoid a deficit and continue offering such summer school.

In the short term, he requested the State Division of Budget approve cost waivers, though he pointed out this is a lengthy process.

"CVES believes that these types of programs can best be offered through the BOCES to maximize cost efficiencies and best serve the needs of our districts' students with disabilities," King said.

"If BOCES cannot or does not offer these programs, each school district must ensure the needs of their students are met through their own programs, which could prove to be less cost effective for the state, taxpayers and our districts."

For example, a small school district may have one child with a particular need or disability that requires a 12-month education plan. Hiring personnel, purchasing equipment and operating a program for a sole student would not be cost effective.

17 DISTRICTS AFFECTED

New York established BOCES in the 1940s to provide and sustain regionally what school districts could not handle cost effectively on their own, such as summer services for special-education students and career and technical education.

Champlain Valley Educational Services serves 17 school districts.

"Over the years, school districts have relied on BOCES and couldn't put together the types of programs BOCES offers, and that's as it should be," Scott said.

"So Peru and other districts are working together to have the legislature and state officials that need to be a part of this eliminate roadblocks from BOCES to provide these services."

OUTCRY

Beekmantown Central School Superintendent Scott Amo said an outcry over the possible cancelation of special-education summer-school services this year resulted in the program remaining open.

But now CVES appears unable to overcome insufficient regulations and law.

"We are trying to figure out what our options are and how to do it," Amo said.

FEARS LOSS OF SKILLS

Donahue wonders what her options are, too.

Before CVES, she felt her son, Caseigh, was denied — or at the very least, shortchanged — services due to costs. Many parents the Press-Republican has spoken with over the years say districts regularly deny or try to avoid providing all the services a child needs and is legally entitled to, in an attempt to save money.

Special-education bills rise significantly each year, and the federal government has never lived up to its promise to reimburse districts 40 percent of the costs to provide such services.

"He needs to attend the summer program so he doesn't lose his skills over the summer," Donahue said. "These children need these services.

"If it is necessary now, they can't suddenly say it is not necessary just because they don't have funding."

E-mail Stephen Bartlett at: sbartlett@pressrepublican.com

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