Fifty-five students receiving special education services in Oak Park Elementary School District 97 were placed in out-of-district facilities for additional services during the 2011-12 school year, according to D97 data.

The out-of-district placements were due to the severity of students’ conditions and are not uncommon, said Michael Padavic, D97’s director of special education. But the number of students receiving outplacements last year was lower than the previous two years, he noted.

Padavic, along with Assistant Director Regina Macaskill, reported that and other data to the D97 school board on Aug. 21, part of their annual department report to the board.

In the two previous school years, 67 and 66 students, respectively, were sent out of district. Students who are severely autistic and those who are emotionally disturbed typically require additional services outside the district, Padavic explained.

On average, the district historically has 55-65 students who need extra services, said Padavic, who reiterated his desire to have a day school in D97 to serve those and other kids, though he noted that’s not in the district’s immediate plans at this point.

“I’m still going to explore the opportunity for a therapeutic day school and early childhood center. I know those are very costly items, so we’ll walk on this very slowly and cautiously. It’s not something we want to jump into, but I want to explore that opportunity,” Padavic said.

D97 also provides special education services to students from private and parochial schools. Last year, the district served 16 kids, a significant drop from the previous four years. During that period, D97 serviced roughly 35 students, except for the 2008-2009 year when that number was 24. In all, the district had 851 students in special education last year, which is about the same number as the four previous years.

Macaskill noted that communication by the district to parents regarding services remains a top concern for families and one the district is working to improve. Padavic added that his department is currently doing an evaluation of all programs offered to students.

“One of the things I want to focus on is to evaluate our programs. Are our programs effective? Is there something we should be doing differently? … That’s one of my goals this year,” he said.

An immediate worry, he said, is potential funding cuts to special education at the federal level. Overall, the district spends around $10 million on special education. But Padavic noted that the district is looking at a potential 8- to14-percent cut this January in federal grant money authorized through IDEA, the Individual with Disabilities Education Act.

“The concern with that is we have over 30-some special education aides who are paid out of that grant. If those cuts occur, we will have to look at those expenses being picked up by the district,” he said, adding that IDEA also covers the district’s costs for professional development, as well as some equipment the district uses.

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