Special-education programs draw from district M&O levy dollars
January 14, 2014
By Neil Pierson
Like her fellow administrators around the Issaquah School District, Michelle Caponigro is concerned about providing resources for her special-education students.
For Caponigro, the principal at Pine Lake Middle School, that means having teachers in two learning resource centers — an LRC I class for students with specific learning disabilities who spend much of their day in a general classroom setting and an LRC II class for students with “significant challenges” who are more difficult to manage.
Of Pine Lake’s 847 students, about 60 are served by a special-education program, Caponigro said. There are three full-time LRC teachers at the school, a fraction of its certificated teaching staff of 40.
Kathy Connally, principal at Endeavour Elementary School, has similar demographics. To serve her 660 students, she has two full-time LRC teachers and one to run a Learning Assistance Program, which helps students who don’t make grade-level scores on state assessments.
“Special-education services cover a wide range of needs for students,” Connally said. “They cover academic needs … and they touch on building social skills.”
The Issaquah School District will have three levy measures on the Feb. 11 ballot. One is a one-year, $1.7 million proposal to purchase 71 new buses, which will replace existing buses at the end of their life span and help the district deal with future enrollment growth.
Like salaries, curriculum and extracurricular activities, special education is something the state doesn’t fully fund, and most districts address the issue every four years or so by placing a maintenance and operations levy before voters.
In Issaquah, the next M&O levy will be on the Feb. 11 ballot. The district is seeking $198 million between 2015 and 2018, which will cover about 21 percent of its classroom costs.
Educational assistants, or EAs — hourly-wage employees who aren’t certified teachers — are a key component of successful classrooms, Connally said.
At Endeavour, that includes a speech and language pathologist, an occupational therapist, a physical therapist and help for English language learners — students whose native tongue isn’t English.
While Connally said it varies how much Endeavour students need EAs, they are always a necessity to some degree.
“It honestly changes every single year, and it grows every single year,” she said. “My ELL population has doubled in the course of the last five years.”
M&O money also helps pay for elective courses. At Pine Lake, Caponigro said, electives have given students an outlet they haven’t found elsewhere. For example, the school has an integrated projects class that teaches basic tool use. Some eighth-grade boys have been “lighting up” with excitement as they work to fix a talking prop for an upcoming school play, she said.
In other Pine Lake classrooms, orchestra students perform classical music, and culinary arts students make salsa. Skyline High School students often return to Pine Lake to use the wood shop, because they don’t have their own.
The common denominator for kids? Electives “often end up being the best part of their day,” Caponigro said.
In order to integrate the most up-to-date technology in classrooms, teachers have to participate in training sessions. Levy dollars help offset the cost, Connally said, because most training takes place outside the regular school day and teachers receive compensation for their time.
Connally, who has worked with the Issaquah district for 20 years, said one of the most popular training programs she’s seen is the Issaquah Technology Project, an idea that mushroomed out of working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
More than a dozen of her Endeavour staff members have attended the annual “weeklong immersion training” in Leavenworth.
“I think that catches on like wildfire, because teachers are really inundated with all kinds of technology that they can be using in the classroom with their kids and their instruction,” Connally said. “And they do it in a really collaborative way — they bring teams of teachers in to work together.”
Extracurricular activities are another area fueled by M&O dollars. Pine Lake has a wide variety of clubs — including robotics, math, geography and drama — and athletics. The track team typically has 300 kids turn out, Caponigro said.
“We have a four-season sports calendar, so we run the full gamut of middle-school athletics — volleyball, cross country, basketball, wrestling, track,” she said.