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“Preferred Provider Model” expanding services and saving money

Everett Public Schools Special Education Director Dr. Michael Baldassarre.

The Everett Public Schools (EPS) has implemented a new model for delivering counseling services that is enabling the district to simultaneously help more students and save money at a time when every dollar is stretched to its limit. EPS Special Education Director Dr. Michael Baldassarre presented the findings to the School Committee on Tuesday night as part of his Fiscal Year 2018 Special Education Report. In it, he detailed how EPS revamped its “Preferred Provider Model” in 2017, resulting in the double benefit of greater reach and savings. Midway through the 2017-18 school year, the new model has saved the district approximately $1.1 million. (In total, Special Education savings this fiscal year stand at $3 million.)

In 2015 and 2016, roughly 100 EPS students required mental health counseling during the school day as part of their Individualized Education Program (IEP). The 10 adjustment counselors (plus one supervisor) working for EPS at that time could not accommodate all 100 students. To handle the overflow, students were seen by professionals at Eliot Human Services on Chelsea Street, where the waiting list was up to two months.

In 2017, Eliot clinicians were placed in Everett’s schools. The adjustment counselor positions were eliminated, and funding for counseling was outsourced to insurance. The results are that students receive longer counseling sessions; support is available after school, on weekends and during vacations; and therapeutic mentoring and family support services are provided through the Commonwealth’s Children’s Behavioral Health Initiative.

“Most significantly of all, the number of students receiving mental health counseling in our schools has swelled from 100 to 440,” explained Dr. Baldassarre. “There are no wait lists. And in Eliot we have a partner that boasts a multidisciplinary staff of professionals who serve the most vulnerable students in our district.”

According to numbers outlined during Tuesday’s School Committee meeting, the new model saved EPS $734,866 in 2017 and $687,873 in 2018.

“I commend Dr. Baldassarre for the strides he’s made since he joined our district,” said Superintendent of Schools Frederick Foresteire. “He’s continually trying to find ways to do things better and more efficiently, but never at the expense of our students’ health and well-being.”

Special Education funding has been in the spotlight in recent weeks, as EPS has taken successful steps to address an $8.3 million budget gap. Unanticipated costs are at the heart of the issue, including $1.5 million in Special Education expenditures that could not be factored into the fiscal year 2018 budget. Specifically, in 2018 alone, EPS has added 30 students who require out-of-district placement for programs and services, with per-student costs range from $45,000 to $345,000.

“It’s important for people to understand the stresses that puts on our budget – to recognize that there are things that are out of our control,” Dr. Baldassarre said. “But it’s equally important to convey that we’re taking steps to ensure that improved services and results are not always associated with greater expenses.”

In addition to the new counseling model, EPS points proudly to the Devens School, a fully accredited Special Education day school that opened in 2013. This year, the Devens has an enrollment of 64 students, 53 from Everett and 11 from other districts, generating $383,383 in revenue. If the 53 Everett students were placed out-of-district, the total tuition costs would top $2.8 million and transportation fees would be more than $1 million. Dr. Baldassarre reported that, between the Devens School and the revamped Preferred Provider Model, the total savings in fiscal year 2018 are $3 million.

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