• December 21st, 2012
  • Posted by NJCSEFR

Public School Superintendents Earn A “BONUS” For Reducing Out of District Special Education Placements

There is a growing trend among school boards to offer “merit pay” to their top leadership for meeting certain performance goals. These goals fall into two general categories: student achievement and fiscal responsibility. In most school districts, the Board of Education adopts laudable goals for their school leaders– higher test scores; improved graduation rates, or updated curriculum. But one disturbing trend in the category of “fiscal responsibility” deals with special education. School boards are offering their superintendents “merit bonuses” – sometimes in excess of $25,000 – for reducing the number of special education students in out-of district placements or reducing tuition payments to out-of-district schools. Read the news article about one such district here.

This effectively places a bounty on the heads of children with complex disabilities – and creates a direct cash incentive for the superintendent to get involved in placement decisions – a role he or she does not have.

Decisions about placement are, by federal law, to be individualized and based on the needs of each child. They are to be made by a team of professionals who know the child, and they are supposed to be made without consideration of cost. One can only assume that with such an incentive, Superintendents are telling staff in no uncertain terms: “don’t consider specialized programs,” thereby closing off an option that may be appropriate for a particular child. Indeed, our members are describing districts that are bringing entire groups of students (for example, all students with autism, or all students from ABC school), back to in-district programs, apparently without regard for the IEP process.

While it is laudable, and in fact necessary, for New Jersey school districts to increase special education options at the local level, and to improve the scope and quality of local programs, it is unconscionable and perhaps illegal for Boards of Education to incentivize Superintendents to regulate special education placements for their own benefit.

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