NORWAY – State officials involved in the restructuring a program that helps 5,000 children who have developmental disabilities said Tuesday that budget cuts will be done in areas with the least impact on services to children.

Early this year, Education Commissioner Susan Gendron was charged by Gov. John Baldacci with reducing the $43 million budget at Child Development Services by $6.5 million over the next two years.

“Our commitment is to do that without impacting children and their services,” Laurie Bertulli, state Child Development Services director, told parents, educators and therapists at a meeting Tuesday in the Ripley Medical Office Building in Norway.

The state program oversees 16 sites throughout Maine that coordinate and provide services to children from birth through preschool. The program is funded by state and federal money.

Child Development Services-Opportunities has 18 employees in offices in Norway and Mexico, which serve families in Oxford County and northern Cumberland County. The site currently has 400 children on its rolls.

Bertulli and David Stockford, Education Department policy director and team leader, met Tuesday with parents whose children receive services from CDS-Opportunities to outline Gendron’s proposals. Educators and speech, occupational and physical therapists also attended.

Gendron was scheduled to speak at the meeting but was unable to attend.

Bertulli said Gendron is proposing a centralization that would transfer fiscal functions, including billing and payroll, from the 16 sites to the state level. She also is proposing that 16 individual boards of directors be dissolved and one state-level board be created instead.

Some parents had been concerned that budget cuts would reduce the number of available therapists and increase waiting periods. Parents also expressed concern that current services to their children would be impacted by belt-tightening.

“The services that are in place are not going to change,” Stockford said.

“Parents are not overly concerned about cutting $6.5 million as long as it doesn’t affect their children,” said Bette Woodbury, site director of CDS-Opportunities. Regarding any potential reduction in therapists, Woodbury said, “I don’t see it happening.”

Bertulli said input from the meeting will be used to develop the final proposals, which will be sent to the governor’s office at the end of the year. Similar meetings will be held at other sites during the next few weeks.

Cathy Hazelton, a speech and language pathologist in Mexico who contracts with CDS-Opportunities, suggested money could be saved by streamlining the assessment process for children.

Hazelton said children who are assessed by professional therapists and determined to be in need of services can receive individual therapy, but they must undergo an additional, separate assessment before they can enter group programs that are designed for children with developmental needs.

“It just seems silly,” she said. “Our judgments aren’t good enough.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.