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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.

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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