Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Contractdisputedelaysspeechservices

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Contractdisputedelaysspeechservices

Article excerpt

PATERSON – Children in special education in Paterson have been waiting 10 months to get speech therapy sessions they lost last February because of a contract dispute between the school district and a private company, according to officials.

Starting in January, the district plans to provide speech classes on Saturdays for the children who lost sessions when contractual problems arose between the district and the company, Clifton-based Kid Clan, officials said.

Hundreds of children were getting speech and other therapy services though the district's therapy contract with Kid Clan. Officials have not clarified exactly how many of those youngsters still have not received the make-up therapy sessions.

"The district immediately began working to replace these services," said spokeswoman Terry Corallo. "But as we have discussed on many occasions, there is a serious shortage of people who can provide these services."

"We tried to get speech language specialists to no avail," said acting superintendent Eileen Shafer.

"Those kids shouldn't have to wait that long," said Linda Reid, one of the leaders of the Parent Education Organizing Council of Paterson.

The delay in providing the speech sessions represents the latest in an ongoing series of chronic problems that have arisen in recent years in Paterson Public Schools' special education program. Shafer has said that improving special education programs is among her top priorities.

But in a cash-strapped school district, officials face an uphill battle in addressing the problem, particularly because special education services tend to be more expense than regular instruction.

The size of the district's special education staff has grown by about five percent, from 890 educators to 935, over last year, according to officials. But at the same time Paterson Public Schools' overall special education budget went down from $69.6 million in 2016-17 to $66.8 million in 2017-18.

Corallo said the district has shifted some special education services from outside contractors to in-house employees, a move she said produced savings and helped the district stay within the reduced budget. Corallo also said that even if the district had more money it could not find the speech therapists it needs.

The New Jersey education department earlier this year determined that the Paterson district was not complying with state law on some special education issues – a finding that was reached in response to a complaint filed by the Newark-based advocacy group, the Education Law Center.

On Dec. 15, the law center sent the state a letter saying the group has "uncovered critical issues" in the district's special education program. The law center said some students still do not have speech services in place four months into the school year. The groups also said some speech specialists in the district have excessive caseloads of more than 100 children. …

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