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Special Ed data requirements strain staff

Cloquet school board members struggled Monday night with the idea of adding a clerical position to keep up with the growing amount of special education data required by the state.

Cloquet school board members struggled Monday night with the idea of adding a clerical position to keep up with the growing amount of special education data required by the state.

"We now need to track every minute and every penny and those requirements are put on teachers," said Ken Scarbrough, Cloquet schools superintendent. "Many schools are going to a new system to handle that and free up our teachers."

This year, for the first time, special education service hours for certain students must be reported through the Minnesota Automated Reporting Student System (MARSS).

"Districts have not reported these hours through MARSS in previous years and all districts are faced with making decisions about how to cover this time-consuming requirement," Arlene Asuma, Cloquet district information specialist, said.

In Cloquet schools, she estimates there are 128 students who need special education services that would need to be tracked in this manner.

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Those service hours are now reported by teachers to Asuma who then must calculate the numbers. As she explained it in a letter to school board members, teachers and other service providers report these hours to her once a month.

"To estimate quantity, suppose each student receives, on average, forms from two service providers. Monthly reports for each student would be two forms/student/month x 10 (average) months = 20 forms per student per year," she said. "Take 128 students x 20 forms = 2,560 forms sent from teachers or service providers to me per year - obviously a record keeping delight."

"It is essential that we get this right and reported on a timely basis, or we could lose a lot of money," Scarbrough said.

Cloquet Schools Business Manager Kim Josephson said the job description of the proposed "due process facilitator" was modeled after the person already hired at Esko to do the same duties.

The due process facilitator would assume some of the duties two hours per day through the end of the current school year, and in the fall would work four hours per day.

"We could use federal or state dollars for this position," said Josephson. "We do think this would end up paying for itself."

Some school board members expressed concern that using federal or state dollars for the position would take funds away from other needed services. Some of that money is currently used for items such as tuition, counselors and pyschologists, according to Josephson.

Board members said they would like to know about other cuts before adding anything.

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"I hate to do this separate from our budget cutting discussions," said Shelly Pritchett, board member.

Added board member Sandy Crowley, "We're going to be asking everybody to work a little bit harder, tightening their belts. If we're going to be cutting a whole lot of things, do we need to be adding?"

Jim Crowley, board member, said he'd like to table the discussion until they have more information. Josephson reported that he could bring someone experienced in the position to speak to its benefits at a future meeting.

"We're going to be cutting people who work with kids and I would like to wait if we could," he said.

Board members passed a motion to table the discussion until an April meeting.

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