Last week, we wrote in this space about the need to grapple with the rising and unpredictable costs of special education.
Like it or not, special education is a major driver of property taxes. When our small towns see six-figure spikes in this area (nearly a half-million dollars in at least one case), their residents’ tax bills go up.
We wrote that every student deserves the opportunity to reach their full potential, regardless of their abilities, but that we need to look at ways to better manage and fund these costs.
We also wrote that local taxpayers may fear to question spikes in special education spending because others might criticize them as uncaring.
The criticism was swift from one local school district, which responded by accusing the newspaper of violating “a student and family’s right to confidentiality.”
You can read the full response from AOS 93 here.
The AOS 93 letter misconstrues our words as an attack on students with special needs. We rarely respond to specific letters to the editor, but feel the need to dispel any notions to this effect.
The statement last week – about a $200,000-plus bill for one student in Damariscotta five years ago – repeated AOS 93’s own public explanation of the expense.
The editorial did not name the student. We do not know the student’s identity.
Both the AOS 93 superintendent at the time and an attorney for the district repeatedly attributed the cost to a single student in public meetings.
Is it really the position of AOS 93 administrators that the AOS 93 superintendent and attorney can repeatedly give the same public explanation for this expense, but it was a violation of confidentiality for the newspaper to do so last week?
More importantly, is it the position of AOS 93 administrators that we should never publicly discuss such situations? Wouldn’t it be better to talk about them and develop a plan in case another student needs the same arrangement, so maybe we can fund it and still maintain some stability in tax rates?
AOS 93 administrators also say the editorial blamed kids with special needs for tax increases.
To be clear, the newspaper does not blame kids with special needs for tax increases. It would be ridiculous to do so.
It is the responsibility of government to make good fiscal policy. It is the responsibility of voters to hold government accountable when it fails to do so.
Where in government does the responsibility to fund special education lie? That is a more complex question.
We often hear about mandates that affect special education funding.
What are these mandates? What purposes were they intended to serve? Are they effectively serving these purposes? What can we do to roll back any harmful or unnecessary mandates and avoid new harmful or unnecessary mandates? Are we applying sufficient pressure to federal and state governments to follow their mandates with funds to implement those mandates?
Rather than make the newspaper out as a confidentiality-violating, kid-blaming villain, local educational officials should welcome an open dialogue about how to provide and fund special education in a sustainable way.