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DISTRICT SHIES FROM PLAN TO MAINSTREAM THE DISABLED

Confronted with a brick wall of parental resistance, Granite School Board backed away Tuesday night from a proposal to mainstream many of its special-education students as a cost-saving move.

In doing so, the board created a nearly $1 million headache for its administrative staff, which must find that amount somewhere to continue the present program at the 1990 level, plus provide for 19 new classes of handicapped children.The projected cost of the new classes, $856,000, does not include additional transportation, which could require up to a half-dozen new buses. As a final challenge to the administration, there are no surplus classrooms in the district to house the expanding special-education program.

Earlier in the evening, the board had gone through a painful process of identifying potential budget cuts to trim $2.5 million from the overall district budget. The special-education problems are merely another twist of the financial knife as the 1990-91 budget is prepared. The preliminary budget, which will be the subject of a hearing June 19, portends a very small tax increase of approximately a third of a mill to cover increased debt service needs. (See chart for proposed budget cuts.)

Despite the perplexing array of problems related to special education, the board bowed to the pressure from parents of handicapped children, who packed the district office auditorium and spilled into hallways for the five-hour meeting. Without exception, those who spoke blasted the district's proposal to break up special cluster units that have provided services for children with particular handicaps.

The proposal was to return all but the most severely handicapped youngsters to their neighborhood schools and provide special services there. The plan would have required extensive in-service training for regular classroom teachers and redistributing of special-education teachers and an array of therapists who provide services to handicapped children.

Caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place, the board agreed to ignore the recommendations of Joyce Barnes, district special-education director, and maintain the present program. A committee will be empaneled to study the issue and try to come up with solutions before next year.

The district is trying to offset its share of the escalating costs of special-education services. Since 1985, when the district paid approximately 3 percent of the total cost, the percentage of support has increased to more than 17 percent, said Board Chairman Lynn Davidson.

"We have to close that gap," said Davidson.

The federal government, which mandated services for handicapped children in the mid-1970s, pledged to supply 40 percent of the costs. However, the support from Washington has never topped 17 percent and currently stands at 7 percent, he said. The state also has funded the special services at only 84 to 87 percent of the actual costs, continually increasing the burden for local districts.

Despite assurance from Stevan Kukic, a State Office of Education expert, that mainstreaming of special-education students is a national trend, about a dozen parents of handicapped children angrily - often emotionally - denounced the plan for Granite District. Among their most frequently stated concerns:

-Students with different types of handicaps and of varying ages would be mixed in their local schools, creating difficulties for students and teachers.

-Handicapped students often suffer emotionally when grouped with non-handicapped peers who don't accept them.

-Scattering the services among all district schools, instead of concentrating them in the cluster units, could cost more, not less.

-Parents were not included in the discussion of a potentially significant change in the special-education program.

-There is not sufficient time to prepare for a massive change before the 1990-91 school year begins.

-Regular classroom teachers are not qualified to deal with the handicapped and might ignore their needs in classrooms that already are overburdened.

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(Additional information)

`Wants' vs. revenues

Proposals that will be considered by Granite District to bring wants into line with revenues for the 1990-91 budget include:

-Increase the busing limit for elementary students from 1 mile to 1 1/2 miles ($100,000)

-Reduce elementary school instrumental music from two days per week to one ($347,192)

-Cut $50,000 from the alternative school program.

-Reduce the number of elementary library/media coordinators to one for every five schools instead of one per two schools, with full-time aides in the schools ($400,000).

-Raise fees for the Mill Hollow program to make it self-sufficient ($80,711)

-Require children to pay for transportation expenses related to field trips ($65,000)

-Close two or more of the district's high school swimming pools ($200,000)

-Reduce the maintenance budget ($400,000)