By Peter Elacqua
MARLBORO – The New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) has passed a resolution that was submitted by the Marlboro K-8 School District Board of Education and calls for a change in the adjudication process for disputes involving pupils who require special education services.
More than 140 representatives of New Jersey school districts attended the NJSBA’s semiannual meeting at Mercer County Community College, West Windsor, on Dec. 10.
Marlboro’s proposal calls for legislation to be introduced that would place the burden of proof in a dispute regarding a child’s individualized educational program (IEP) on the party filing the action.
“This resolution was submitted to the NJSBA Delegate Assembly for their consideration as a way to reduce costs for school districts,” Marlboro school board President Debbie Mattos said. “The board is continually looking at all avenues to reduce costs in the budget every year which will thereby minimize the tax impact to the taxpayers.”
Under a state law which was enacted in 2007, the burden of proof in cases involving an IEP rests with the school district, whether or not the school district initiated the complaint. In most other types of litigation, the party that brings the legal action has the burden of proof.
The resolution reflects a recommendation of NJSBA’s Task Force on Special Education in its 2014 report, which found that from 2008-09 through 2011-12, special education costs increased at twice the rate of general education expenditures. New Jersey’s costs to provide special education are among the highest in the nation.
According to Marlboro Business Administrator Cindy Barr-Rague, the school district’s costs for special education since 2009-10 are as follows: $15.42 million in 2009-10; $15.51 million in 2010-11; $15.12 million in 2011-12; $14.99 million in 2012-13; $15.75 million in 2013-14; $16.48 million in 2014-15; $16.96 million for 2015-16.
Marlboro administrators budgeted $17.75 million for special education costs during the 2016-17 school year.
A task force survey asked superintendents and special education directors to identify changes in law and regulations that would enable them to manage costs. More than one-third cited the adjudication process for special education program challenges — especially due process and burden of proof — as an area in need of change.
“I am a parent of a disabled child, but I am also a board member who represents the school district,” Somerville delegate Melissa Sadin said. “However, under the current process for special education disputes, the IEP is inappropriate until proven appropriate.”
The NJSBA reported that 78 percent of the delegates voted in favor of the resolution that was put forth by the Marlboro school board.
Following the vote, NJSBA President Donald Webster Jr. said the association believes firmly in programming to help disabled students achieve to their fullest potential. He said the resolution will give the NJSBA the opportunity to address ways to control costs without harming special education or general education.
The delegate assembly is NJSBA’s major policy setting body. Action by the delegates determines the association’s positions before the state Legislature, the state Board of Education, Congress and the courts.