As the mother of an autistic son, Susan Bundy knows well the benefits of Carroll students attending non-public schools like the Linwood Children's Center in Ellicott City.
Just the same, she wouldn't mind seeing her 9-year-old son, Arthur, whom she describes as only mildly autistic, return to the Carroll County Education Center.
It's a plan she thinks educators ought to consider if a Maryland State Department of Education proposal to cap state money for placement of students in non-public schools is approved by the General Assembly.
"If the state throws this on Carroll, they should really lookat having some kids stay here and have ones that really need help get the services they need elsewhere," Bundy said.
While Carroll educators concede there are some advantages to such a move, they remain opposed to the department's plan.
"The most scary thing is that wehave no way of predicting when we will get another student or a moresevere student," said Gary Dunkleberger, director of curriculum-staff development. "(The plan) has the potential to bankrupt special education for moderately handicapped students."
Currently, Carroll sends 52 students to non-public schools. These are students whose needs are "so profound that we as a school system cannot meet them," he said.
By federal law, public schools are required to educate all students, regardless of their disabilities.
A typical student, he said, would be one who is severely emotionally disturbed. Some require 24-hour placement in structured, residential settings and are sent to schools in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and New Jersey.
The educational costs ofthese youths range from $10,955 to $134,000 a year. Carroll's tab is$570,000, or $10,955 for each student. The state pays the rest.
"Now there is no real bottom to the barrel," said Harry Fogle, assistant supervisor of special education.
Under the legislative proposal, though, the state would limit the dollars Carroll and other school districts receive for non-public education the next three years.
Carroll, for instance, would receive $1.56 million next year. That money, coupled with the annual local share, would enable the county to hire additional teachers and other staff and provide transportation and mental health services for the 52 students.
While educators saidthe district would break even next year, they are concerned that Carroll would not fare as well in the future. The number of students needing higher levels of services continues to grow, and the costs associated with those services continue to escalate, they said.
During the past five years, the cost of placing students in private learningcenters has grown from $516,660 to $2.12 million. If the cost continues to rise at the current rate, educators estimate Carroll's tab in fiscal 1995 would be about $4.2 million.
Under that scenario, theywould fall about $1.1 million short, even after receiving $2.52 million from the state and the local contribution of $570,000.
"It's the future we're concerned about," Fogle said. "You never know what's coming. You could have a student move in tomorrow and his services could cost $125,000. What if we don't have the money budgeted for that?"
Further compounding educators' concerns is that the state proposal doesn't include money for fiscal 1996. The state plans to conduct a study after fiscal 1994 to recommend future funding.
"With the way the entire state budget is right now, I don't see why they wouldn't just drop it," Fogle said. "It's a cost-containment proposal for them."
Although there are advantages to bringing some students back to Carroll, Fogle said such a move wouldn't benefit students with severe special education needs.
Eleven-year-old Stefan Krasnansky is among that group.
Stefan transferred from the Carroll County Education Center to a structured program at the Maryland School for the Blind in Baltimore two years ago.
"From our point of view, it would be distressful," said his mother, Dee. "He transferred to get that kind of structure. To have him return to Carroll would be detrimental to his development and hard on the school as well."
YEAR .. .. .. .. ..No. .. .. .. .. Cost
1988 .. .. .. .. .. 24 .. .. . $427,707
1989 .. .. .. .. .. 35 .. .. .. 516,660
1990 .. .. .. .. .. 53 .. .. .. 999,069
1991 .. .. .. .. .. 68 .. ... 1,509,082
1992 .. .. .. .. .. 52 .. ... 1,671,462
1995* .. .. .. .. . 94 .. ... 4,226,000
SOURCE: Carroll Board of Education