Saranac Lake school board considers special ed study

SARANAC LAKE – The Saranac Lake Central School District may hire a consultant to study its special education program.

District Superintendent Diane Fox briefed the school board Wednesday night on a proposal from Diane Albano of the Rensselaer-based Capital Area School Development Association, the outreach arm of the State University at Albany’s School of Education. Fox said Albano’s study would cost no more than $10,000, would be paid for through a grant and could be done this fall, if the board approves it.

There are several good reasons to do the study now, Fox explained. The district has recently reshuffled its administrators, assigning new principals to each of its four schools and putting former high school assistant principal and dean of students Paul Leahy in charge of its special education program. Leahy is considering retiring this year. Fox also noted that it’s been five years since the district phased out its use of the Franklin-Essex-Hamilton Board of Cooperative Educational Services in educating most students with special needs, shifting that instruction into its own classrooms.

“We’ve done our very best to provide a quality program for them back in the district,” Fox said. “We’re looking at perhaps having a change in administration at our special education program twice this school year. Paul and I have chatted about it and think it would be in our best interest as a school district to bring in an outside consultant to look at our special education program, tell us what they think we are doing well and should continue to do, and some areas where we might be able to shore up what we’re doing.”

Fox said the study would look at the district’s special education instruction, climate, student achievement, staffing levels, potential supports for administrators and staff, behavior management plans and the incorporation of special education into general classroom instruction, among other things. Albano would also review the budget for the district’s special education program, which Fox said is about $2.9 million this year, excluding transportation costs.

As part of the study, Albano would come to the district for seven to 10 days, meet with administrators, teachers, teacher aides and parents, and conduct classroom observations.

Fox said Albano came highly recommended. The Capital Area School Development Association website says she has 10 years of experience as an assistant superintendent and seven years as a director of pupil services, responsible for special education programs. She has also been a special education teacher and for 14 years served as coordinator of special education programs with a BOCES program that serves school districts in Rensselaer, Columbia and Greene counties, and around the state. Fox said Albano sent her copies of similar special education program studies she’s done in other districts.

Board member Terry Tubridy asked if the district has ever done such a study before.

“I don’t think we even did it before we made the big change,” said board President Debra Lennon.

“I think it’s time,” Fox said. “Our staff, our district has been through big changes in special education and changes in state education law. I really think this would be a good time to look at our whole program.”

Tubridy noted that the study would take place as the district is preparing its budget for the next school year.

“This is just a part of the budget that we have very little control over,” he said.

“And it’s a big part of the budget,” Lennon said. “It’s a lot of money. We should know that we’re doing it as efficiently as possible.”

Fox said she’d ask Albano to send her a contract. If the board approves it at its next meeting, Albano would start in late September and present the findings of her study at its Nov. 18 meeting.

Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or