LL Schools have fewer special ed students


The Los Lunas School District switched into high gear when the New Mexico Public Education Department questioned a drop in special education expenditures.

There was about $960,000 under scrutiny for fiscal year 2010-11.

"The state was concerned that we weren't keeping up the same outstanding special ed that we had before," said Superintendent Bernard Saiz. "But, we were able to prove that was wrong."

The state provides funding for special education by the number of special education students in the district, and their particular needs.

This funding is provided within the State Equalization Guarantee, or SEG, for public schools, said Brian Baca, assistant superintendent of special services.

Every public school student receives one unit of funding, and special education students receive additional units based on their particular needs. Bilingual students receive additional units, as well.

This is what educational officials mean when they refer to the "different weighting" of individual student funding.

There were a couple of reasons the district spent almost $1 million less in the 2010-11 school year.

First, there was a decrease in special education students, or students that have an Individual Education Plan, Baca said.

Some of the special education students left the district as their families moved for economic reasons when the economy tanked, he said.

Another decline in the number of special education students is due to better identification processes by the district.

"At one time, I think the district in Los Lunas had a higher percentage of students on an IEP as opposed to the state average, and as opposed to the national average," Baca said. "When these students became re-evaluated through better identification, I think that we had fewer students that were being placed on an IEP."

In 2010-11 there were a total of 1,338 students on an IEP. In 2011-12, that number had dropped to 1,218. This year, the number of students on an IEP at the 120-day count was 1,265. That includes gifted students, which averages about 250 students each year.

With less students, there was also less need for some ancillary special education staff, fewer speech pathologists, fewer occupational therapists, physical therapists, and so forth, he said.

"Along with that, the unit value, or the money we get per student also decreased," Baca said. "We had less students, and we were funded less for the students we did have."

The state monitoring was to make sure the district was supporting special education through its operational budget, he said.

"We were successful in answering this response," said Baca.

In the same vein, the New Mexico Public Education Department was questioned by the U.S. Department of Education about $43 million in federal special education funding.

In an Albuquerque Journal story, State Education Chief Hannah Skandera said she believed New Mexico spent enough on special education since fiscal year 2011 to avoid running afoul of federal law.

In other business, the board:

• Approved the district selection of Chris Martinez for the New Mexico School Board Association Leadership Award. He said having a top notch team behind him made it easier to sit on the school board.

"I appreciate the opportunity for that," Martinez said. "This district is on track to be the top leader in the state as far as initiatives and how education should be run in New Mexico."

• Approved the canvass results for the 2 mill election. The official tally shows a 685 voter turn out with 527 votes to continue the 2 mill levy, and 158 against it.

"It is very important for our Capital Outlay projects," said Claire Cieremans, CFO.

• Approved the design for the Valencia High School Jaguar mascot mural to be painted on the village of Bosque Farms water tank. The cost is estimated to be about $5,000.

-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.