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Palmerton School District studies having own Life Skills program

Published January 18. 2012 05:02PM

Palmerton Area School District could implement its own Life Skills program to serve students with severe disabilities.

The concept was presented to the school board on Tuesday by Robert Palazzo, school psychologist, and Bob Dailey, director of special education.

Palazzo said Life Skills support classes provide education to students with severe disabilities such as intellectual disabilities, Autism, and severe learning disabilities.

Students may participate in the class full-time, or they may participate within a regular education class for some subject areas, he said. The curriculum is individualized for each student in the class, and is based on the goals and specially designed instruction within each of their individually designed education plans, Palazzo said.

Once a student begins to receive Life Skills support, they can continue in a Life Skills program until age 21, Palazzo said. The students will always be eligible for the services, he said.

At present, Palazzo said the district sends its Life Skills students, who are in grades 4-6, to programs run by the Carbon-Lehigh Intermediate Unit #21 and Lehighton Area School District.

The average cost for a student to attend a Life Skills program at CLIU21 is $24,084, without transportation, while the average cost for a student to attend the program run by Lehighton is $14,180, without transportation, Palazzo said.

In grades 4-6 in the 2012-13 school year, Palazzo said the district will have five students who attend an IU class, and four students who attend the Lehighton program. The total cost for those students to attend those programs in 2012-13 would be $177,170, without taking into account transportation, he said.

On the other hand, the cost to hire a special-education teacher with eight years experience and a master's degree would be $81,514 (pay and benefits), and the cost to hire an instructional assistant would be $10,058, Palazzo said.

That would result in a savings of at least $85,598 if students were educated in the district's own program, said Palazzo, who added an extra savings would occur in the area of transportation, though the exact cost is not available.

Additionally, he said there are two students who currently attend a district elementary school that will be recommended to attend a Life Skills program next year. The cost to have those students attend out of district programs next year would be between $28,360 to $48,168, he said.

Palazzo said the district would have 11 students from the district enrolled in the program. Of those, five will be sixth graders next year, while the district will have three transition into the class from the K-3 Life Skills class, he said.

Up to 12 students may be on a Life Skills roster, which would leave the district with one open space for students who move into the district, and/or students from out of district, he said.

The district, Palazzo said, could offer the spots to students from other districts, and have them pay a tuition equivalent to the fee that Lehighton charges.

Palazzo said the district would need to hire one special education teacher and one instructional assistant. A curriculum for the classroom would also have to be approved, he said.

The program would be housed at S.S. Palmer Elementary, Palazzo said.

Dailey said the program would be "something that's viable for the students."

Palazzo added "we felt this would really be a great opportunity for the students."

Dailey said there may be some funds available to cover the curriculum component.

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