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RCSD budget, committee guidelines look to boost district's special education dept.

(WHAM photo)

Rochester, N.Y. (13WHAM) - At a special meeting Tuesday, the Rochester City School District voted to adopt its 2018-2019 budget, totaling $915 million.

The night featured a variety of changes on the way for the district's oft-scrutinized special education department.

That scrutiny widened following the death of special needs student Trevyan Rowe this past March.

In next year's budget, the addition of nearly 40 full-time special education teachers, ten more behavioral specialists and a variety of other positions aimed to boost the department.

Eamon Scanlon, with the non-profit Children's Agenda, was hired to help look at the district's budget and make recommendations on how to improve spending.

Those recommendations included ideas to help revamp the special education department, which has often seen higher rates of turnover in recent years.

"They’ve had a lot of disorganization and improper funding in the past, and that has led to a big crisis moment this year," said Scanlon.

Board member Melanie Funchess helps lead a special advisory committee which recently announced its recommendations for the special education department.

Some of the committee's recommendations include calling for additional staff, better communication between the district and parents of special needs kids, reexamining suspension policies for students with special needs, and more.

"We looked at this as if as if every child, every one of the thousands of children in the RCSD, was our own child," said Funchess.

That committee was formed in January, more than two months before Rowe's death. But Funchess says some of the proposed changes are in response to his death.

"I believe the death of Trevyan gave us a higher moral obligation to make sure we got this right," said Funchess. "We knew that we needed to fix everything that needs to be fixed, but at the same time we wanted to make sure we honored him."

Funchess says the added staffing numbers in next year's budget for the district's special education department is a good start to fixing its problems.

Funchess says she is hoping the board will be ready to adopt the committee's recommendations at its next meeting later this month.

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