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Special Education Overview at Delaware Academy

Written By The Mountain Eagle on 2/29/24 | 2/29/24

Early Budget Numbers Presented

By Mary A. Crisafulli

DELHI - The Delaware Academy Central School District Board of Education heard an overview of special education program goals and achievements on Feb. 26. Director of Special Education Winsome Zinkievich provided the presentation. This is Zinkievich's first year as director. 

There are currently 111 middle and high school and 62 elementary students enrolled in special needs programs. Of those students, 12 are in preschool with special needs which includes speech therapy. The district expects roughly seven students in the next school year's preschool class to require special needs. The district in total has 142 students with Individual Education Programs (IEPs). The district has an additional 56 students with 504 Plans which means they are being tested for IEPs or the student has special circumstances that don't currently require specialized instruction but could in the future.

Zinkievich said the district's special education program operates off of four strategic goals or focus areas including quality of programming and services, data-driven decision-making, increased opportunity for professional development, and family and community engagement.

In area one, quality of programming, Zinkievich said the department develops quarterly reviews and progress notes for each student. Reviews have been streamlined to be more reader-friendly for caregivers to understand. A numerical component has been added to reviews for data collection. Zinkievich holds monthly department meetings to gain a better understanding of the educator's perspective.

Program goals include developing ways to bring more special needs students back to the classroom, said Zinkievich. Some students require support systems the school district does not offer. Such students are placed in outside programming. There are currently three students at the Children's Home of Wyoming in Binghamton, nine students at DCMO BOCES,  two students at Springbrook Day School in Oneonta, and two students attending Walton Central School District.

Zinkievich is also looking at ways to increase student performance and support systems available and reviewing individual student needs for future years.

Another major adjustment this year has been an increase in professional development for educators, said Zinkievich. She has held eight after-school development training sessions running roughly one hour each. Teachers have also been offered the opportunity to attend outside training sessions that align with New York State goals, Zinkievich reported.

Of the students in special education, the following scored proficient in areas of study last year, 71% in English language arts, 3% in algebra, 40% in living environment, 20% in physical setting/earth science, 20% in global history and geography II, and 88% in US history and government.

One of Zinkievich's largest concerns is the upward trend in behavioral needs. Zinkievich said this is something identified in other districts as well. An increasing number of students are coming into kindergarten age in need of behavioral plans. Some require outside district placement, but Zinkievich there are not enough services to support the growing need.

Superintendent Kelly Zimmerman said that behavioral issues in need of outside placement include students who are violently disruptive in class or physically aggressive. "Without more community support to provide both preventative and responsiveness programs, there is more placed on the schools," she said. While Zimmerman did agree there is an upward trend of behavioral issues that spiked following the global pandemic, she said it is not at a point that the school feels it is not equipped to actively handle it.

In another discussion, Assistant Superintendent for Business and Personnel Carey Shultz gave an early overview of the 2024-2025 school year budget. The early understanding of the budget is estimated to be around $22,473,029 roughly a $925,000 increase from the current year. The estimated budget is roughly $300,000 over district revenue and state aid, said Shultz. Although the budget is $300,000 over, Shultz believes the district can cover most of the costs with reserve funds and remain under the 2.09% tax cap. The budget tax cap for last year was 2.13% and the district remained at a levy increase of 1.25%, reported Shultz. Since 2018 the average tax levy increase is 1.45%, he said. "We never go to the cap," he said. However, Shultz warned board members to be aware of the potential decrease in state aid as the state works on its budget.

Potential major budget increases include $509,686 for the instructional and salary line item. This budget line item includes the transportation costs of special needs program participants who travel out of district and program costs, which Shultz said is a major expense. In addition, the transportation budget line is expected to increase by $160,086. Bus leases have increased a lot in the last year, said Shultz. The instructional media budget line is expected to increase by roughly $183,000 due to the school working to streamline Information and Technology services. However, this initiative is approximately 50% reimbursable by the state, though the district won't receive these funds until a year later. Central services are also expected to increase by $66,883.

Zimmerman said it is anticipated that transportation costs for the proposed ski club can be added to the budget.

More details on a finalized preliminary budget will be presented at the budget workshop on Monday, Mar. 11 at 5 p.m. Another budget workshop is scheduled for Monday, Mar. 18 at 5 p.m.

In other business, board members scheduled a special vote for the capital project bond proposition to be held on April 16 in the lobby of the middle school gymnasium from noon until 8 p.m. The proposition includes improvements to the physical education and athletic facilities including field improvements at an estimated cost of $3,100,000. Costs proposed for a multipurpose synthetic turf field have been donated by Clark Companies and are not a part of the $3.1 million. The board does not intend to raise taxes for the above project which will be funded in full through New York State building aid and district reserves. 

The next board of education meeting is scheduled Monday, Mar. 25 at 5 p.m.

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