Project Grow Policy Sparks Discussion

Whether Marion, Mattapoisett and Rochester should reimburse each other when a student takes a space in another Tri-Town Project Grow classroom was one of the topics of discussion at the ORR Joint School Committee on Thursday evening.

Since the 1980’s, the tri-towns have shared a joint grant to help fund Project Grow, which services children ages three to four.

The program’s intent is to mix special needs children with those without special needs to create a healthy interaction of youngsters.  Of the 15 slots in each classroom, generally, seven are for students with an Independent Educational Plan (IEP) and eight who do not.  Students with IEPs pay no tuition and those without IPE’s pay tuition.

Currently, if all slots are filled in Mattapoisett and a child from Mattapoisett enrolls in the program, the child can fill an empty slot in Marion or Rochester.  The committee discussed this transfer of one student to another town’s classroom, which occurs without any tuition payment involved in the transaction.

Several committee members, including Jay Pateakos and Christine Winters, from the Marion School Committee, wanted the committee to think about and discuss whether taxpayer money in each town was being spent educating and providing special needs services to a student who didn’t reside in the town.

Terry Hamm, Director of Special Services for the district spoke and said that the three towns don’t know who will enroll and what the needs might be each year, but the current arrangement seemed to be working, with the goal of having the child gain access to the services they need, such as speech therapy and other needs to help them succeed in the classroom in the future.

Originally, Project Grow had one location, but as the towns grew, each created a classroom.  The committee, after much discussion, agreed to keep the current practices in force and send the question to the policy committee for comment and recommendation on the reimbursement issue.

In other business, the committee heard about Governor Deval Patrick’s plan to increase spending per pupil by $25 in the 2013 budget.  Regional transit costs along with special education are to be protected by the proposed budget released by Patrick’s budget proposal.

The state also proposes to enforce Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) checks and fingerprinting for every school employee who is with children.  The question was whether the cost was to be paid out of district funds and who would do the work.

“In New Hampshire, the local police department handled the CORI check and the fingerprinting,” said Superintendent Doug White.

The 2013-2014 school calendar was voted upon and approved, with a opening day of August 27, 2013 and an end of school date, depending on snow day extension, of June 13, 2014.

A discussion followed regarding the district policy manual, which is now on paper and receives paper updates that school employees must update on a regular basis.  Superintendent White recommended that the district consider using the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) handle the revision and updates digitally, with each employee, and the public having access to all policies.

“The current paper system is this high,” said White holding his hands up showing a massive paper stack.

The cost to have MASC handle and update the manual would be $1500 the first year, $3500 the second year, $3500 the third year and after that, an annual ‘hosting’ fee of $950 per year.  The committee discussed the options and agreed that bringing the district up to date in compliance and having regular reviews would be worth the time and effort now spent with paper updates.

“I believe it would put us in good stead to be in compliance and offer access to the public, administration and teachers,” said White.

Committee member Charles Motta suggested putting the job out to bid with teaching colleges.  The committee agreed to discuss the issue at the next meeting.

Finally, the committee discussed changes to the Field Trip policy and proposed a draft and asked members to comment.  Changes to the policy included that siblings not enrolled in the class participating in the field trip will not be allowed to attend, for liability reasons.  Also, parents joining a field trip at the destination may only do so if they have the approval of the administration and teacher and have an approved CORI check.

 By Joan Hartnett-Barry

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