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Special-Ed Budget Cuts Bashed

The proposed $71 million budget for the East Providence schools shows about $1.2 million in cuts for special education tuition payments -- a big chunk of the $4.1 million sliced by the Budget Commission.

The proposed East Providence school budget of $71 million for the 2012-2013 fiscal year took some more hits at the School Committee meeting Tuesday evening, Oct. 9.

Most of the hits came from parents and a teacher of special-education children who used words like “concerned,” “disturbed” and “appalled” to describe the cuts made to special education by the East Providence Budget Commission, which has complete control over spending.

About $1.2 million in tuition payments for special-needs students is being cut from this year’s $9.2 million in payments, said Malcolm Moore, East Providence finance director.

It is a big chunk of the overall $4.1 million in cuts made to this year’s school budget to balance it next year, Moore said.

Lauri Brown, the co-chair of the EP Local Advisory Committee for Special Education, said she was especially “concerned” about a comment made by Budget Commission member Michael O’Keefe, the chairman of the group until a couple of weeks ago.

Brown, who has a special needs child at Riverside Middle Schoo, said O’Keefe said any time more money is put into special education it’s “robbing other kids and teachers.”

“He’s clearly biased,” Brown said. “It’s not right he can make statements like that.”

Tim Conley, a candidate for the School Committee and the parent of a special needs child, agreed that O’Keefe’s comments on special education are “troubling.” He also described them as “mean-spirited.”

“He’s pitting one group against another,” Conley said. “The role of government is to help its most vulnerable citizens.”

Special education in East Providence has given his son, he said, a far different future that what his prognosis was as a baby.

“They’re balancing the budget on the backs of special-education students and teachers,” Conley said, “and taking away what community means.”

Most of the School Committee members, who will not be in those seats after the Nov. 6 election, seemed to agree with the parents.

School Committee Chairman Charles Tsonos, for one, said: “I see no checks and balances on the Budget Commission. What the Budget Commission says is law.”

The proposed $71 million school budget also includes $1 million in benefit reductions, said Moore, an $800,000 reduction in health-benefit costs, a reduction from all-day to half-day kindergarten, and a salary line of around $39.5 million that fills all vacancies on the staff.

Moore said the overall general fund budget of $134.5 million, which goes into effect on Nov. 1, calls for no tax hike and balances spending with revenues.

A second public hearing on the spending plan by the Budget Commission is scheduled for Oct. 18 at 5 pm in Room 306 in City Hall. It will be the final chance for anyone to make a public comment on the budget.

Expect at least a few parents and special-education supporters to make one last plea for more money.

Ms Paula G. October 10, 2012 at 12:32 PM
This comment is one of the worst I have read on here . O'Keefe should be more than ashamed of himself . He should walk in someone else's shoe's before he speaks these word's again. " Brown said O’Keefe said any time more money is put into special education it’s “robbing other kids and teachers.”
Concerned Parent October 10, 2012 at 06:27 PM
That alleged comment by O'Keefe is one of the most utterly repulsive hateful uprofessional statements I have read. Who is this man? Who appointed him? and I think it might be time to call the ACLU and file some charges. Then EP can really have a bill to think about thanks to his comments. The comment sounds hateful, discriminatory and offensive to the disabled children and the parents of these children.
VLake61 October 10, 2012 at 11:59 PM
I totally agree. Who is he to make a comment like that! I also am a parent of a special needs child. Unless he walks in our shoes, he needs to stop making such ignorant comments! Get rid of him and take his side kick with him. She is making a mess with the special services dept. Again another person with no knowledge of knowing what is in the best interest of our kids!
Ron C October 11, 2012 at 03:46 AM
Don't bother wasting your time at the budget commission. These people don't live here and they don't care. The don't care about the special need student, they don't care about middle school sports, they don't care about youth sports as they are going to tax all the sports leagues out of existing. The person to blame is Governor Chafee. What needs to happen is to get all of these groups together and picket his next media/photo op or better yet fund raiser and demand that he immediately replace O'Keefe for the comment regarding special needs funding. Chafee is the only one that can replace him and he has to go as he is single handedly destroying our city. NO ONE and I mean NO ONE is going to move into this city. You call to get a sidewalk fixed...no money, use Fuller library...no money, new soccer fields or fix the ones we have...no money. Every city worker you call and talk to and you hear the same thing..sorry- no money, no workers...talk to the budget commission. I don't remember voting for the budget commission!!! WE, the residents, need to take back our city NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Ms Paula G. October 11, 2012 at 11:24 AM
I am looking to move out of this corrupt city in the very near future along with my sister who we have both own homes here for 15 yrs plus .The best education my children received was in Rehoboth Ma . When I moved here my children were board in school because this city is far behind. When my daughter was in sixth grade she was asked to assist students who were having trouble with there work. She came home and said " mommy please help me I want to learn and not teach " I had to fight for this to be taken care of . She is now going to PC and a member of the National Honor Society. Imagine if I did nothing . We always have to fight to get someone in office " TO DO THE RIGHT THING! It should not have to be this way ! Oh and guess what , I redistered to vote as UNAFFILIATED , the city has me as a DEMOCRATE! How did this happen ????????
C the light October 11, 2012 at 01:07 PM
Oh, I have. Like you said "we" need to take our city back everyone needs to send an email to all our representatives Governor@governor.ri.gov a few people just look like we are just complaining. Finances do have to be fixed, however it it the city employees overlooking the departments that have made the errors and abused the system is why we are here today. They need to stop making excuses (using our kids as scape goats for the problem) step up to the plate, be honest, stop blaming each other, and twisiting the process ..............AND DO YOUR JOB YOU ARE BEING PAID FOR.
Bruce Zarembka October 11, 2012 at 03:00 PM
While I couldn't agree more with everyones concern for the ignorant comment made by Michael O'Keefe, I do not agree that the budget commission needs to go. It's unfortunate, but reality that, one...the general population chose to elect a complete inept majority of the city council during the last election cycle....secondly, that it appears at least two of the inept still have support of the populace in their respective wards. (I don't think I need to name the two individuals I speak of)...they have not represented the people, they have represented their own special interests. Thirdly, the residents of the city have over the years contributed to this issue by not educating themselves on who is running for office and what do they truly represent. (This goes for the past and present council and school committies who time and time again have mis-managed this city and brought it to the situation we are in today.) I would say be thankful for the budget commission as they are the only ones keeping this city from falling deeper into the money pit. I do not agree with all of their decisions, but unfortunately hard times call for hard decisions. However with that in mind...there is no excuse for the comment made by O'Keefe...people need to pound him (via feedback) on that comment...don't let that one go!
June Coan October 11, 2012 at 05:04 PM
To email the budget commission, this is the email address: EP.BudgetCommission@revenue.ri.gov. You can ask to direct the email to any specific person on that board.
Paul October 11, 2012 at 05:47 PM
Mr. O'Keefe's ill-advised comments notwithstanding, the reason we still have a Budget Commission is that, as recently as last month, our City Council voted to give a tax exemption to the Knights of Columbus. Until we elect a City Council with courage, and one that is responsible to the citizens of this City, the Commission will not, and should not go anywhere. Adult supervision of our elected officials has been made necessary by their own ineptness.
Mari October 12, 2012 at 08:25 PM
Mari SHAME !!SHAME!!! ON MR. O'KEEFE FOR NOT TAKING BETTER CARE OF THE SPECIAL NEEDS CHILDREN OF E.P. HOW WOULD HE LIKE IT IF HE HAD SUCH A CHILD AND THEY DID THIS TO HIS CHILD!!! I HOPE HE IS NOT A PRACTICING CHRISTIAN!!
JR October 12, 2012 at 10:38 PM
Not only has O'Keefe demonstrated his viewpoint on special education students, the 2013 Budget also contains the elimination of ALL DAY KINDERGARTEN!!! Everyone should write to the Governor!!! Get this man OUT!!!
zwilson1958 October 14, 2012 at 02:13 PM
It is a shame that our elected officials are not able to perform the will of the people. We have competent people on the School Committee who understand the decisions that need to be made. Chrissy Rossi will be a city counsellor, so she would have found a way because it would make her future position easier and She has expressed support for special needs students over the past 2 years. Chrissy and Steve Furtadofrom willbe the only remaining elected officials from the current school committee come December, we need to support them.

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