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School board questions homebound spending

by Jennifer Biller

STAFF WRITER

CLARKSBURG -- The Harrison County school board is questioning more than $85,000 spent last year on after-school special education and homebound instruction and may make major changes for next year.

During a work session Thursday, board members scrutinized the homebound program, as well as the board's financial commitment to special education in private schools.

Last year, the county was obligated by law to provide $40,651 to private schools for special education. In actuality, the county spent more than $73,800 to service 41 private-school special education students.

Of that, $33,231 was spent on after-school instruction for seven private school students.

"These are large sums of money. We need to look at the program," said board member James Reaser. "I'm in favor of doing all we can, but when the bills get this big, we need to reexamine things."

The county receives federal allocations for special education, but that covers only about 18 percent of the services, said Victor Fisher, supervisor of pupil services for the county.

The county received more than $1.8 million in federal money last year for special education. The state contributed almost $200,000 toward the program.

"We're providing more to the private schools than we're legally obligated to do," said Harrison County Superintendent Carl Friebel. "We've spent more money than we need to, and we'll be keeping a closer eye."

Some board members also questioned why more than $52,000 was spent for the public school homebound program.

Homebound students are permitted to receive instruction at home. The students are referred by a qualified physician or by a school committee.

"Homebound initially was to take care of students who were ill and couldn't attend class," said board member James Bennett. "Now, in my opinion, it's grown to where we're using it for special education and to get rid of disruptive kids in the regular program. Consequently, it's costing us."

Board members questioned Fisher about how students are approved for out-of-school instruction. They expressed concern that schools may be too quick in categorizing students as special education and offering them homebound services.

"It comes down to each individual situation, whether it's appropriate or not," Fisher told board members.

The total cost of the homebound program and the number of students involved were not immediately available Thursday.

The school board is requesting closer scrutiny of out-of-school instruction. Board members asked Friebel to put together a detailed description of how students are referred to homebound. The board also wants to see a check system to see if services are being delivered.

"We just want to be sure we're not using it as a dumping ground for out-of-control students." Bennett said. "Homebound is never as good as regular instruction."

The board is scrutinizing every program and all the dollars being spent, not just homebound and special education, Bennett said.

"If we don't, we're going to find ourselves in a financial crunch. We're getting fewer and fewer dollars," he said. "The demands on the system go on, even though there are less students."

Staff writer Jennifer Biller can be reached at 626-1449 or by e-mail at jbiller@exponent-telegram.com.