LEWISTON — The school district spends too much money on its special education program, according to an audit conducted by American Educational Consultants.

For example, the audit shows a discrepancy between the number of education technicians needed according to individual education plans and the actual number of ed techs the district hires.

“Your IEPs are not indicating a need for 200 ed techs,” education consultant Keith Kelly told the School Committee on Monday.

The district has budgeted for 246 ed tech positions, but only 200 are filled.

The audit indicates 71 would be enough.

Of the 200, fewer than 15 are general education technicians. Most work in special education.

“Are you saying Lewiston is really not excellent at writing IEPs that reflect what students need?” asked committee member Kiernan Majerus-Collins.

Yes, Kelly said. “Your staff recognizes something does not jibe, something does not connect.”

Assistant Superintendent Karen Paquette said a sampling of IEPs was used for the audit. An audit of all IEPs will be a long process, she said.

“That needs to happen before we make a final determination on whether we need 71 or 200,” she said.

Kelly’s presentation included state and national comparisons.

Lewiston Public Schools has identified 20% of its 5,200 students as needing special services. The national rate is 13%, Kelly said.

“You need to ask yourselves why 20% of your kids are identified and what is the relationship to English language learners and cultural and language differences,” he said.

The city has a large immigrant population. The ELL program serves more than 1,450 students.

The district spends 25% of its per-pupil allocation on special education, Kelly said, adding that Bangor spends 16.9% and Portland, 14.7%. The state average is 16.9%.

The amount of money spent in Lewiston could be lowered by replacing contracted services — totaling about $800,000 — with district staff, Kelly said.

He said the outplacements, students for whom the district pays tuition to out-of-district programs, is another area for potential savings.

Lewiston pays $6.2 million for outplacements and the related transportation. The district could use that money to create its own program for students with critical needs, Kelly said.

That would hinge on whether the district could attract and keep staff and find space for such a program, Paquette said.

The consultants’ recommendations were organized in tiers according to priority, Kelly said.

First, fiscal stewardship, then professional capacity, student achievement and community relations. “Engage with the community,” Kelly said. “Celebrate what you do and you do a lot of great things.”

He began his presentation by noting the positives of the district’s special education program: It is adequately funded, leaders and staff are talented, staffing is adequate and many embrace diversity.

“Your staff have very caring and collaborative relationships,” he said. “They talked about supporting one another and picking one another up when times are tough.”

He added, “Your power is in your collective talents and the ability of your people. You certainly have talent and ability in Lewiston Public Schools. You have some passionate people.”

The special education audit was commissioned by former Superintendent Todd Finn in March.

Audit: Revamping Lewiston special education program could save millions

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