Budget impact of moving Pittsfield's Eagleton residents not a worst-case scenario
PITTSFIELD — Five young Pittsfield men uprooted by the closure of the Eagleton School in Great Barrington are now housed in similar programs, costing city schools at least $75,000 more annually.
The budget impact was not as severe, though, as worst-case scenarios imagined by Pittsfield Public School Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless.
Eagleton's entire student population was quickly relocated after the state ordered the school closed in the wake of a student abuse and cover-up scandal that has led to the arrest of several former staffers.
Tuition at all other comparable schools proved more expensive than at Eagleton School, leading to the added expense for Pittsfield.
"There's little else in Berkshire County [in similar programs]," said Gretchen West, special education department director in city schools.
Tuition costs will run beyond $50,000, while transportation — to school and back home for periodic visits, which is paid for by the city — was estimated by West at "minimally" $5,000 per student.
Eagleton School tuition cost the district roughly $60,000 to $70,000 for each of the five students.
"It's not the level of impact we were bracing for, and we're grateful for that," McCandless said. The superintendent initially worried that the Eagleton School closure "could mean an addition of hundreds of thousands of dollars to our city budget.
"Without commenting on the legal aspects, the commonwealth was extremely communicative and moved very quickly to help students relocate to appropriate places in a difficult situation," McCandless said.
West said the district hopes to receive state aid to defray some of the added expense.
"That's always the hope, and all this was obviously unplanned," West said.
The special education director also said the district will be working in the future to find openings for these students at different schools located closer to home.
Special education department staff, and hence costs to school districts, have grown exponentially over the years, a result of increasing state mandates for services and the needs of today's students.
Increasing numbers of special needs students from low-income Pittsfield households require more assistance by a larger array of professionals than in the past, school officials have said.
District-provided figures show there are 1,234 students in special education programs this school year — from a total enrollment in city schools of 5,831.
Relocating the Eagleton School student population of 72 was a three-week operation. In arguing for the school's closure, the state detailed accounts of emotional and physical abuse against students by staff and subsequent cover-up attempts — infractions which went unchallenged by the school's administrators and attorneys. The state said a culture of "systemic abuse" prevailed there.
Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.
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