Out of seven area schools in the Paul Bunyan Educational Co-op, Brainerd is where the majority of special education students go.
That's what the Brainerd School Board heard Monday from Ray Johanson, director of the Paul Bunyan Educational Co-op, a group of districts that works together with programs to help students with special needs. Bonnie Kriha coordinates the programs in Brainerd, and Kathy Miller coordinates the early childhood students with special needs. The three discussed where the co-op is at in special education programs.
According to a 1999 child count from the co-op schools, Brainerd serves 929 or 12.5 percent of students with special needs. The district has 7,408 students currently. The number stayed constant from 1998 at 12.5 percent. In the state in 1998, there were 100,777 students who were in special education classes.
Other schools in the co-op: Aitkin serves 178 students in special education and has 1,451 students total; Crosby-Ironton, 198, 1,659; McGregor, 105, 638; Pequot Lakes, 1,165, 138; Pillager, 752, 101; and Pine River-Backus, 1,409, 230.
Some of the courses help students who have problems with speech and language skills, are mentally handicapped and have learning and development disabilities. Brainerd has the highest number of students in the speech and language and emotionally disabled behavior classes. Some students have more than one need, so they need more help.
Kriha said she is seeing constant growth with children with special needs. She believes smaller class size is important, but there also must be qualified people to serve the students.
The special education cost per year is $2,772 per child in Brainerd. The total cost is an estimated $6,400 and the state contributes about $2,780.
The special education consultants also gave their opinions on early childhood and what they see as important with children with special needs. Johanson said the early childhood program would work best if the program was in every elementary school, instead of just one centralized area.
Miller agreed, saying it is hard for little children to move around from one building to the next. It also makes it easier for families to have their children stay in the same building for a few years.
"It takes awhile to get to know a school and the programs and to feel part of things," she said. "We have more requests from people who want to stay in the same school."
In Brainerd, there are 120 children with special needs age 6 or under: Five are under age 1, four are age 1, 21 are age 3, 47 are age 4, 35 are age 5 and 29 are age 6.
In the co-op there are 282 total early childhood children with special needs. A majority of the children have development disabilities.
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