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HARVARD — In a recent review of special education spending, it was noted that there are 71 SPED students at the elementary school between kindergarten and grade 5.

The Harvard Elementary School count grows to 82 when students from the Integrated Pre-K program are factored in. At Bromfield Middle High School, there are 83 SPED students. Of the districtwide SPED count of 165 students, 27 are schooled out of district with 15 students served by the CASE Collaborative.

Fourteen percent of the student population is on IEPs (individualized education plans) and receiving SPED services. When asked to project SPED need in the face of declining enrollments, Superintendent Dr. Thomas Jefferson said the expected “mathematical piece” would mean fewer costly out-of-district SPED placements. But that’s not exactly known in advance. Also “we’re not seeing an increase in out-of-district placements but an increase in severity (of needs). Some we can take care of now that used to be out of district.”

SPED Director Pam DeGregorio said the “first preference” is to try to keep the student’s education in district. “That’s always our first course.”

But an increasing trend is for SPED students, otherwise entitled to an education up to age 23, to remain in the program past age 18. This is especially true for high functioning students with high IQs (like Asperger’s syndrome) but who are otherwise in need of assistance in their quests for independence. Talks are afoot to see if the costs can be shared with other towns like the Lincoln-Sudbury Regional School District.

Because SPED is “the most volatile and complex” expense to predict, the budget includes $175,000 for unknown SPED expenses. Generally speaking, Jefferson said, “we don’t have a sense of projecting ahead who’s moving in.”

— MARY ARATA

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