Edward Placke is Superintendent of the Greenburgh-North Castle Unified School District, which serves students from urban areas who are primarily of African, Caribbean and Spanish heritage. All students are eligible for the federal free lunch program and are identified as disabled, primarily emotionally disabled. He wants the public to know that these students have been shamefully neglected in the state budget, for years.
There is a small yet growing cohort of students in our State that are identified as disabled with significant behavioral and psychological challenges, live in urban poverty and have found little success in their home public schools and other public schools such as District 75 and BOCES. As a result, there are few alternatives for these students. The ten New York State Public Special Act School Districts in our State have traditionally been the sole alternative; student live on the campuses in light of their family situation or commute daily from their communities. They provide a comprehensive education for these students to assist them to cross “The Bridge to Adulthood” with graduation rates that are significantly higher than the State average for student with disabilities. For most it is the last option before leaving school and facing those negative outcomes associated with not earning a high school diploma. Clearly Public Special Act School play a role in educational options for student with disabilities.

The Public Special Act School Districts are funded via a tuition rate in which the methodology is established by the New York State Education Department and all increases are approved by the Division of Budget overseen by the Governor. Four of the last five years the Public Special Act School Districts have not received an increase in tuition. As Teacher Retirement, Employee Retirement, New York State Health Insurance, utilities, materials and supplies have all significantly increased, the support from the Governor and our representatives have not. Our students do not have a voice as do the community school districts and charter schools. We do not have the resources to purchase billboards, run ads in the media and most disappointingly have very little parent involvement and advocacy. Therefore it is our elected representatives in Albany to be the voice for these most vulnerable students. They had an opportunity this week to include the Public Special Act School Districts in the budget to ensure our sustainability but they chose not to and once again ignored the most needy student cohort in our State.

As a former New York State Education Department Assistant Commissioner, public school administrator and teacher for over thirty years I have face a variety of challenges and disappointments. The unwillingness of our so-called representatives to advocate for the Public Special Act School Districts is certainly disappointing but repressible. The message this week from Albany is clear—community public school districts for the most part received an increase in State Aid and the Public Special Act School Districts that educate our most disabled poorest cohort of students were disregarded. My greatest fear based on Albany’s outright disregard for these key public districts and the students they educate is they will not exist in the very near future. At that point there will be a new generation of students. With time running out my only hope is the Governor will have the courage to be the voice for our students.