The Lawrence school board Monday informally blessed a plan designed to more equitably allocate staff and services to special-education students in the district.
Joe Nyre, the district's assistant director of special services, said a formula would be used to assess needs of approximately 1,500 special-education students. That formula will drive assignment of teachers and paraprofessionals to schools, he said. It also would help guide the organization of special programs clustered at a handful of schools.
"We think this is the foundation for systematic change," he said. "We don't think it's the end-all, be-all. It is a strong foundation."
The district has been working for nearly a year to devise a method to get the most out of its budget, raise the quality of services and more fairly spread resources among schools, Nyre said.
He said service delivery has been inconsistent among district schools.
Changes in special-education, including development of an administrative liaison program to improve communication among staff, will cost the district $10,000 to $30,000, he said.
The board took no formal vote on the reform plan, but board member Mary Loveland said the new system represented a "great amount of forward progress."
The school board should be willing to back district administrators as they implement reforms, Loveland said. The formula may prompt staffing reductions at some schools.
It might be possible to use a similar formula for determining staffing needs outside of special education, said board member Scott Morgan.
Supt. Randy Weseman said a new system would allow the district to be flexible in placement of special-education staff. Enrollment of special-education students changes during the year, he said, and services should follow children from school to school.
"What you're really describing is a system that serves students better," Weseman said.
Nyre said the district should work more closely with parents of students with disabilities to define services. He said some groups formed around specific disabilities were aggressive in seeking services, while children with other disabilities lacked advocacy.
"We need more parent involvement," he said. "The question is how do we do it?"
Nyre also said general education teachers should receive more training to assist students with mild disabilities without relying as heavily on extra staff in the classroom.