Rangeley discusses staffing for special education

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RANGELEY — The preliminary review of the special education budget Tuesday led the RSU 78 school board to take a detailed look at a staffing problem at Rangeley Lakes Regional School.

After noting the need for another ed-tech for a program serving 31 students, Superintendent Sue Pratt recommended moving the school’s social worker from half to full time to help students and their families find the social and emotional services they need.

She said the request was prompted by emails that said the school’s two counselors, provided by private agencies, would be terminated within two weeks.

“We are the people families look to for support,” Pratt said. There are students who hate Fridays because they know they will get nothing to eat over the weekend, she said.

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Several faculty and staff members were in the audience to support Pratt’s request. Director of Student Services Heidi Deery said that when faced with a crisis situation, social worker Holly Haggan is forced to be reactive.

“I was thunderstruck when I read the email,” Deery said.

She said there is no state mandate for social and emotional counseling, so private agencies will go where it is financially attractive.

Middle school teacher Lucy Simonds pointed out that a lack of counseling can provoke a crisis because the most fragile kids need continuity of care.

School nurse Lindsey Savage said she frequently deals with students who have emotional rather than medical issues, and she has to phone Haggan for direction if she is not on-site.

Haggan’s job is to direct students and their families to appropriate programs and crisis management services.

While the need for the full-time social worker was briefly but inconclusively debated, the board asked what could be done to provide replacements for the counselors.

“We need to do something short-term to fix this problem. We need to look at all the options,” Pratt said, implying that the situation could not wait for passage of next year’s budget.

Board Chairwoman Jennifer Farmer asked if the town had resources that could help, and board member Steven Dudley suggested contacting state Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, to see what’s happening in the rest of the district.

The board approved the fourth draft of the Graduation Requirements policy. The latest draft struck the paragraph allowing a Certificate of Completion instead of a diploma to students who have not met Maine proficiency standards.

Board member Nancy Hilliard pointed out that the paragraph is a ruling and not yet a law, and board member Pam Ellis added that it will not take effect for four years.

“Every school in the state will be grappling with this,” Ellis said. “Some of them with expensive lawyers, and we can benefit from studying the debate.”

The policy was approved with one dissenting vote.

Pratt said 15 students toured the Foster Technolgy Center in Farmington on Tuesday morning. They talked to students and teachers, and watched some of the high-tech tools and machinery in action.

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