LEWISTON — An audit of the special education program shows that changes could save Lewiston Public Schools $4 million to $6 million per year.

The savings would be realized in part by creating in-house services for students who are now placed in outside programs.

Superintendent Todd Finn asked for the audit in March.

“Having studied the data, including fiscal information, the performance of students, and trends in special education in LPS over previous years, I concluded that the additional spending each year was not resulting in overall improvements,” Finn said Friday.

More than 1,100 of Lewiston’s 5,200 students receive special education services, according to Finn’s 2020-21 budget overview.

The budget includes $4.7 million for tuition for so-called “outplacements” and a total of $24 million for special education.

According to Finn’s budget overview, 102 students were outplaced in the 2019-20 school year.

The audit by American Educational Consultants found that Lewiston Public Schools “exceeds comparable fiscal parameters,” according to the auditors’ report.

“Other areas of needed improvement are compliance, communication, continuity of programming and student achievement,” according to the auditors.

The audit includes a recommendation for Lewiston to develop its own program for students who would be placed in outside programs, according to a recent presentation by Chief Academic Officer Karen Paquette.

The audit found that Lewiston’s special education staff are “doing really well,” Paquette said. “We have many talented leaders and staff, a caring staff and a nice continuum of services.”

But staff would like to see better outcomes, she said. “We can still get better if we make some adjustments.”

One of the auditors’ findings was that some individual education plans do not match the services being provided to students. Some receive more services than they need, she said.

“There is room for us to have big savings there,” she said.

Finn said other adjustments will include restructuring leadership, changing the way students are referred to special education services and providing professional development for all teachers.

“We will look at what planning really looks like for teachers,” he said. “Lagging skills doesn’t necessarily mean a child is disabled.”

He said the district could have an in-house program in place within a year.

“We need to find a place or places, find talent and build a program,” he said. “Now we need to roll up our sleeves.”

Training will be required, and a lot of hard work, he said Monday. “But LPS educators can do this work.”

The auditors found Lewiston educators to be devoted and dedicated.

“It is good to hear that the experts in this field recognized the hard work and devotion of our staff,” Finn said. “That is something that is evident the moment you step into any classroom.”

Finn said he was pleased to see among the auditors’ recommendations that the district should develop a multitiered system of support for all learners, not just those receiving special education services.

“This is something that I recommended to the School Committee a year ago and also something that was written into the budget for next school year,” he said.

The full audit and a plan to address recommendations for improvement will be presented to the School Committee in mid-July, Finn said.

The plan will include improving the experiences of students receiving special education services, the teachers who work with them, and their parents, he said.

Savings will be realized once the improvements are in place and the district’s new programming is built and proven to be sustainable, he said.

He said a similar audit was conducted in 2011.

“Had the recommended improvements been adhered to, LPS could have had the model special education program in the state of Maine,” Finn said.

He added, “And taxpayers would have benefited from a more fiscally responsible approach to special education over the past nine years.”

Finn has been the Lewiston Public Schools superintendent for one year.

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