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Lake parents want to keep busing for autistic students
Parents say their children can't get adequate services in Lake County schools
May 11, 2012
TAVARES — Parents of autistic Lake students are upset about a plan to cease out-of-county busing for their children to attend a specialized Orlando charter school.
The school district is hoping to save $400,000 of transportation expenses it pays to bus 32 autistic students to Princeton House Charter School in Orlando. The district began footing the bill for busing about 10 years ago when officials said the district could not provide the autistic students with proper services.
Now, district officials are saying the students can get a proper education within Lake schools and want to cut the out-of-county busing during a tight budget year. The School Board still needs to figure out how to come up with about $1.3 million to meet next year's budget needs.
"We don't want to do anything that's going to harm a single child in our district, but we also have to look what our limitations are," School Board Chairwoman Rosanne Brandeburg said.
Busing the students within Lake and providing them services locally would save the district about $243,000 in the first year and $27,000 in future years, district officials said, but parents think the cuts shouldn't be made to services for disabled students.
"Don't just look at this group of kids as to where you're going to cut money from," said Theresa Campbell, whose 19-year-old autistic son is bused to Princeton House. "This money is so well spent."
Parents said they worried some of their students would be bullied on traditional campuses and complained that the services in Lake were not adequate for their children because some facilities were too cramped and lacked full-time therapists, they said.
But district staffers said Lake's schools can, in fact, provide the same services because many teachers are already trained to work with the students or are in the process of getting the training.
"We do provide the same services, but it is certainly in a different setting," said Judy Miller, director of the district's special-education department. Miller added that if the autistic students moved into Lake schools, it would cost about $637,000 next year to pay for additional teachers, therapists and expenses.
School Board members agreed the transportation cuts will likely happen and called for a committee to examine the issue and address parents' complaints. School Board member Debbie Stivender also asked that the district look at how another building could be added to Lake Hills School, a specialized school for disabled students in Howey-in-the-Hills, to handle the increasing number of students being diagnosed with autism.
It's unclear when the board will make a final decision on the transportation issue, but the committee's findings will not affect that move.
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