The Davis School District and concerned parents are gearing up again this year to ask the Legislature to provide more funding for state-mandated special-education programs.

The dreaded "downward spiral" in funding shortfalls continues to plague the Davis district, said school superintendent Rich Kendell."It's a crazy, cyclical problem and we are caught in it."

The "downward spiral" is this: Federal and state laws require the school district to provide certain programs for special education but since about 1986 have provided only about 83 percent of the funding, forcing school districts to steal money from the general fund to keep special-education budgets afloat.

The subsidy in the Davis School District has grown from $235,000 in 1988 to more than $1 million this year.

"I don't know how I can continue to spend money in this downward spiral by taking money away from other programs I must deliver," said School Board President Lynn Summerhays.

Aggravating the district's problems are federal civil rights violations in which the district's special-education program was cited for having high case loads, insufficient supplies and not enough certified staff.

"We can't turn students away, but we don't have enough teachers or space," Kendell said. "So we increase case loads and class sizes to balance the budget."

The cost and shortage of certified therapists are also causing headaches for district officials.

The problems have caused numerous parents of special-education students to worry that the quality of special education in Davis County has decreased over the years. They are concerned that district attempts at streamlining may result in reduced service.

For example, the district plans to contract physical and occupational therapy services through a private company under the direction of Dr. Kent Allsop, Bountiful. The plan, in which "motor aides" are utilized more than therapists, would cut more than $100,000 from the $600,000 special-education therapy budget, Kendell said.

But Robin Chidester, a member of the governor's Legislative Coalition for People with Disabilities, said she fears the increased use of aides instead of therapists might cause a handicapped child's problem to go undetected.

Chidester's said her coalition and other groups, such as the Davis County Association for Retarded Citizens, will be watching the district closely.

Meanwhile, the school board decided to form an ad-hoc committee to study the special-education problems, funding formulas and the district's program to see if improvements can be made.

The special-education problem will be discussed further in a Dec. 11 School Board meeting, to which state legislators and state education officials will be invited.



Robbing Peter to pay Paul

Money takent from regular education budgets to meet special-education needs:

1988-89: 235,000

1989-90: 435,000

1990-91: $1,300,000(est.)