Pa. firm to run special-education school

The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore school system is contracting with an outside company to run a school for special-education students, a move that will combine two special-education schools currently operating alongside each other in the same building.

Pennsylvania-based Specialized Education Services Inc. received a three-year contract, worth $4.2 million for the first year, to run the Woodbourne Day School and Central Career Academy at Briscoe. The amount the company receives in future years will depend on a funding formula for special-education services set by the Maryland State Department of Education.

The move will combine Woodbourne and Briscoe into a school called the High Road School at Briscoe, serving 125 middle and high school students with emotional and behavioral disabilities.

According to city school board documents, the school system will pay $3.2 million of the $4.2 million and the state Department of Education will cover the rest. Officials had budgeted $5.9 million to run Woodbourne and Briscoe next academic year, so the new arrangement will save the system $2.7 million, the documents say.

Specialized Education Services, which runs six special-education schools in Maryland, will hire its own staff, which will consist of company employees, not school system employees. The company will contract with the school system for services such as food and transportation. It will be required to provide parents with quarterly reports on their children's progress.

The city school board approved the contract with the company at a meeting Tuesday night. Yesterday, the state school board approved the new structure as part of its approval of restructuring plans for nine failing city schools, Woodbourne among them. The schools are required to restructure under the federal No Child Left Behind Act because they have failed to meet targets on annual standardized tests for several consecutive years.

One restructuring option is to hire an outside company to run the school, as Woodbourne is doing. The other eight schools whose plans were approved yesterday all chose the option of replacing all or most of their staffs. The schools are Sinclair Lane Elementary, Harford Heights Elementary, Dunbar Middle, Forest Park High, Northwestern High, Sharp-Leadenhall Elementary, Francis M. Wood High and Harbor City High.

Harford Heights Elementary is a new school formed by the combination of Harford Heights Primary and Harford Heights Intermediate; the intermediate school was required to restructure.

Statewide, 39 schools must restructure this year. Most of them are choosing the staff-replacement option. Staff members will be offered jobs elsewhere in the system if they are not rehired for their current positions.

The city school board has reappointed the principals of Sinclair Lane, Harford Heights and Sharp-Leadenhall, and named new principals at Dunbar Middle, Forest Park and Northwestern. The principals will interview the other staff members.

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