Originally created 05/01/06

Aiken focuses on special needs



AIKEN - Aiken County school district officials want to create specialized classes for pupils with severe emotional disabilities, and they're studying ways to lower the cost.

School board members have said specialized classes would prove beneficial for the pupils because they would learn how to better manage behavior that is disruptive in regular classrooms.

The concept arose from a school board committee's report in January that offered some options to provide more educational assistance to pupils with severe emotional disabilities.

The board's directive for the administration to find ways to lower the cost of the three options came after the board announced it is going to have to curtail programs or raise taxes to cover a projected budgetary shortfall for the 2006-07 school year.

Valerie Towles, a school board member, said the district's mission to better assist the pupils poses a challenge.

"Finding something that would be less costly would definitely be beneficial," she said. "But I don't know how you can provide a quality program without putting money into it."

Special education has a hefty price tag in Aiken County, with the district spending $20 million for the current academic year after having spent $19 million last year.

The committee report contained three options, which board members deemed too expensive. Option one was presented at $1.41 million, option two at $1.45 million and option three at $520,000.

All three would entail hiring varying numbers of additional teachers, behavioral specialists and counselors so greater attention could be given to students as they learn good behavior, said Frank G. Roberson, the associate superintendent for instruction.

The first two options provide pupils with the most thorough program, he said.

"(They would) give them some strategies on how to be successful when they return to the regular school environment," Dr. Roberson said.

"You would see less aggressive behavior that would interfere with the teaching and the learning process."

The first option calls for a concentration of resources by creating two new special education centers to serve the county: the Freedman Pinecrest Centers for Behavioral Competence at the existing Pinecrest Educational and Opportunity Academy in Aiken, and the Freedman Parenting Center in Graniteville.

The second and third options would involve expanding the existing special education programs that serve the district's five areas in regular schools by hiring varying numbers of additional staff to work with pupils in self-contained classes.

Patricia Brown, the principal of Pendergrass-Fairwold School in Richland School District One - a district with about 25,000 pupil - said she feels a specialized facility is beneficial for the severely mentally handicapped children it enrolls.

"We feel that there are educational and social experiences that we can offer to these children that would probably not be available to them on a regular campus in mainstream classes," she said.

Reach Nathan Dickinson at (803) 648-1395, ext. 109 or nathan.dickinson@augustachronicle.com

SPECIAL EDUCATION

Aiken County school district administrators are studying how to lower the cost of three options for creating specialized self-contained classes for pupils with severe emotional disabilities.

Option one: $1.41 million


Option two: $1.45 million


Option three: $520,000