At Monday night’s Board of Education meeting, finance committee member Joseph Bellino disclosed that Verona has lost two court cases involving out-of-district placements for special education students. As a result, Verona will now have to shoulder six out-of-district placements that were not in the budget. Bellino estimated that the additional cost would be in the range of $270,000, which will put Verona over budget in special education. The costs are high because the placements must cover instructional costs and transportation for the students to the new facility.
The BOE will be looking to shift money from other budget categories to cover the expense. “If we can’t squeze it out of the existing budgt, we may come back and take more of the state aid money in the current year,” said Bellino. “I would be reluctant to do that,” he added. “We have to be concerned with putting following year’s budget together”. In July, Trenton sent Verona an additional $275,171 in state aid. The BOE voted earlier this month to only spend $75,000 of that money, and hold the rest in reserve, rather than return the funds to taxpayers.
Bellino said he did not yet know why Verona lost the cases, but added that the board would be seeking guidance from its attorneys. Verona will meet its special education needs, he affirmed. “It’s our duty and we will do it.”
Virginia, I just need a little clarification. Are these 6 students from this district and they sued to move to another district for their education?
Valerie, Joe Bellino did not give specifics on the cases. But what typically happens is that parents of special needs children take legal recourse when they feel the educational needs of their children cannot be met within Verona’s public schools. Verona has tried to meet as many needs as possible because out-of-district placements are very expensive and difficult logistically because of the transportation component. But there is only so much a small district can do, and the vagaries of the school budgeting process make it hard for any district–not only Verona–to adequately plan for its special needs education costs. The court decision raises to 30 the number of out-of-district placements from Verona.
WOW! 30? Really? Makes you wonder….
Thanks for your sensitive account of a subject that’s often cloaked in controversy. I’m a taxpayer who’s also the father of a 36-year-old who received special services throughout her school career. Thus, I appreciate the sentiment succinctly expressed by Finance Committee member Joseph Bellino when affirming that Verona will meet the needs of our residents who have special education requirements: “It’s our duty and we will do it.”
Okay so the Verona BOE is affirming that “Verona will meet the needs of our residents who have special education requirements”, then why do the special needs parents have to sue the BOE in the first place? Why are we spending additional money on attorney fees fighting the parents? If the BOE had won the cases, does that mean the kids wouldn’t be able to get the education that they really needed?
I apologize for the delay in responding to Valerie most-recent comment. She raises a good point in asking why, if the Board of Education says it is committed to meeting the requirements of students with special needs, “do the special needs parents have to sue the BOE in the first place?”
I have no answer to that (perhaps rhetorical)question. As Virginia mentioned in her reply to Valerie’s post earlier in the day, board member Joe Bellino did not provide details on the two cases he cited. But Virginia’s subsequent description of the “typical” case did offer some possible clues. And to her observations I would add only that parents from various towns have told me over the years that disputes with school administrators regarding out-of-district placements can get very contentious.
Yet there was nothing in the myveronanj story that indicated even the slightest criticism by Mr. Bellino or other BOE members of the families’ actions or the court rulings. Judging by Virginia’s account, Mr. Bellino gave a straightforward presentation, unblemished by any hint of negativity. His objective attitude appealed to my head, and his vow that Verona will do the right thing spoke to my heart.