Residential Treatment Center Placements For Students With Disabilities Still Rising in Delaware

The 2014 report for the Interagency Collaborative Team was released, and as predicted, more Delaware students are being sent out of state to residential treatment centers.  144 children were sent to either day schools or residential centers, in Delaware and other states.  These aren’t all 144 new cases, but the trend is growing, up from 90 cases in 2011.

These are students with disabilities who are unable to function both at school and at home.  Many agencies, as you can see in the below document, are involved in these cases.  The final report was written by Maryann Mieczkowski, the Director of the Exceptional Children Resources Group at the Delaware Department of Education.  I will be writing much more about this, but I wanted to get this report out there.

Exceptional Children Group at Delaware DOE: What Do They Spend Money On? And What Company May Be Using Special Education Data?

Important disclaimer to this artice, I changed the title for it on August 21st, 2014. CPG is not buying special education data, so I changed that aspect of the title. The rest of the article is speculative, but led me to the even more atrocious findings I had in my article from today, August 21st.

Being a blogger geek that checks finances for everything, I always get excited when Delaware Online Checkbook updates their website.  It used to be quarterly, but now they do it monthly.  Around the 15th of the month, I get to see where the money is going at the DOE and what the schools are spending money on.  I can usually find some interesting items, as well as some ones that raise my eyebrows.  The amounts below are just for the month of July, the first of the new fiscal year.

The first thing I look for is the residential treatment centers.  Especially the out of state ones the ICT group sends severely complex special needs kids to, because our state doesn’t have the resources (see Delaware DOE: Eye of the Hurricane Part 2).

Advoserv (in Delaware): $407,198.34

Benedictine (in Maryland): $79,200.56

Devereux (in Pennsylvania): $463,743.12

High Road School: $329,669.00

Woods Services (Pennsylvania): $116,938.00

Grand Total for July 2014: $1,396,749.02

Now keep in mind, the Delaware DOE pays only 70% of these costs, while the public school districts pay 30%, so it is actually a much higher amount that taxpayers doll out for these out of state services for Delaware’s youth.

The rest of the Exceptional Children Group payments were typical.  Except for this one: Public Consulting Group Inc.  Who are they?  As per their website:

“PCG Education consulting solutions help schools, school districts, and state departments of education to promote student success, improve programs and processes, and optimize financial resources. Our technology solutions are used by educators to analyze and manage state and district data and student performance information. PCG Education solutions are supported by 25 years of management consulting experience and significant K-12 educational domain expertise. We provide educators with the tools and skills to use data to make effective instructional decisions.”

So what in the world does that have to do with the Exceptional Children Group?  They deal with special education.  But wait, PCG does have an area that deals with special education!  More information from their website:

“PCG Education is a leading provider of comprehensive, Web-based student case management solutions for special education. When combined with the expertise of PCG Education professionals who understand education, educational organizations, and how to effectively guide a school district through a comprehensive implementation process, our systems can help districts successfully plan, implement, and manage students’ individualized education plans (IEPs) in a manner that increases teachers’ time with students and helps districts to achieve federal and state compliance.

 PCG Education is a leading national provider of data solutions that promote student success. We combine 25 years of K – 12 consulting expertise with innovative technology and research-based methodology to help educators
make informed decisions that lead to improved student outcomes. Our innovative special education management tools and services help districts plan, implement, and manage students’ individualized education plans (IEP) and meet state/federal reporting requirements. PCG Education applications are used in more U.S. schools than any other online special education case management tools.”

It gets more interesting under system features:

System Features

  • Compliance and event alerts with flexible parameters.
  • ‘Virtual’ file cabinet to store each student’s special education-related documents.
  • Teacher credential tracking.
  • Intuitive, built-in compliance measures.
  • EasyFax™, an option that gives districts the ability to easily capture and convert paper documents to paperless format.
  • PCG Notifier, a Web-based communication tool that schedules automated or text or voicemail alerts through EasyIEP™ and other EdPlan™ modules.
  • State-of-the-art advanced reporting and data analysis capabilities.
  • Recording, tracking, and management tools to readily produce IEP Summary of Performance documents.
  • Workflow support and centralized documentation for Child Find activities.
  • Transfer of records between districts
  • Integration of student data with district and state SIS.
  • Comprehensive training and support services.

I have taken the liberty of putting the parts I find unbelievable in bold.

A “virtual” file cabinet:  That means special education files are being put in another company’s files.  I don’t recall ever signing off on my son’s special education records being put in a company setting.  I don’t recall ever being notified on that.

“Teacher Credential Tracking”: Don’t we already have that with DEEDs on the Delaware DOE website?

“Intuitive, built-in compliance measures”: Compliance for what?  An intuitive computer system based on an Individualized Education Plan?  Does that computer system know my son?  I don’t recall him ever mentioning his intuitive friend.

“State-of-the-art advanced reporting and data analysis capabilities”: We know the Delaware DOE loves doing their “data dives”.  Is this how they do it?  I love that my son is being data analyzed!  Makes me so happy….not!

“Recording, tracking and management tools to readily produce IEP Summary of Performance documents”: Is this the new system they were talking about at my son’s IEP meetings last Spring?

“Transfer of records between districts”: So not only can they see my son’s records currently, they can see ALL his records!

“Integration of student data with district and state SIS”: SIS stands for School Information System.  I guess someone has to coordinate all that data between the districts and the state!

“Comprehensive training and support services”: Training for who?  The DOE Exceptional Children Group?  I hope it’s just on computer systems.  I would hate to think a company is training our state specialists on special education.

Special needs parents: Were you aware your special needs children’s information has been sold to an outside company?  I didn’t, until now.  I think Mary Ann Mieczkowski and the Delaware DOE have some explaining to do….

If you can’t wait for Mary Ann (she is really nice by the way), you can read all about PCG here: http://www.publicconsultinggroup.com/index.html

In the meantime, since Mary Ann told me she doesn’t read blogs (you really should, you get much more information here than in other state media), I’m going to email her this and ask what services PCG provides for the Exceptional Children Group and why I wasn’t notified my son’s personal information is being stored with another company!

To be continued I’m sure!

Quick Update: I just checked PCG as a vendor for the whole state, and guess who else uses them: Department of Health And Social Services!  And the areas of that department that utilize PCG are Visually Impaired Services, State Service Centers, Long-Term Care Residents Protection, Management Services, Services of Aging and Adult Physical Disabilities, Social Services, Medicaid and Medical Assistance, and Community Health.  Update on the update: Also Services for Children, Youth & Families: Fiscal Services division. They must have a lot of medical and educational data on a lot of Delaware citizens!

How Many Complex Special Needs Children Did Delaware Ship Out Of State In Fiscal Year 2014? #netde #eduDE @KilroysDelaware @ed_in_de

Last month, I did a long article on the Interagency Collaborative Team (ICT). This team decides where to place the most severely complex special needs children into a residential setting. More information from the original article can be read here: https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/category/delaware-special-education/

At that time, I did not have the numbers of students placed in residential treatment centers for the 2013-2014 school year. However, Mary Ann Mieczkowski, the Director of the Exceptional Childrens Group at the Delaware Department of Education, provided this information to me.

In fiscal year 2014, 134 students came before the ICT. Out of those, 57 students were placed in residential treatment centers. Out of the 57, 39 students were placed out of state. This is an average of 62.7%. In fiscal year 2013, the average was 62.8%. If there are more students, and Delaware can only fit so many, why would the average be almost exactly the same? Advoserv had 17 Delaware student placements in 2013, and 19 in 2014. Did they add more room? As I indicated in my previous article, the ratios between those served in state and those served out of state has remained very close for the past 5-6 years.

Information I was not able to obtain was out of the 77 remaining students, how many were placed in day schools like High Roads.

In fiscal year 2013 as well, 32 students were placed in out of state treatment centers. With an increase of only 7 students in the next fiscal year, the costs for these out of state treatment centers skyrocketed this year. I went over the figures in the prior article mentioned above, but between fiscal years 2013 and 2014, the costs for these schools (both residential treatment centers and day schools) went up well over $4 million dollars.

I submitted an FOIA request to the Delaware DOE for the service contracts between the residential treatment centers and the state of Delaware, but the public information office for the DOE, Alison May, informed me the school districts have the contracts with these centers, not the state. Yet 70% of the funding for these centers are coming from the State run DOE, and 30% from the school districts. Why would they not have access to these contracts?

What is even more astonishing is the rise in funding received by the Devereux Foundation between fiscal years 2013 and 2014. Factoring in the 30% the local school districts kicked in for fiscal year 2013, the amount was roughly $920,910.00 but in fiscal year 2014 that amount was $2,473,163.00. An increase of over $1.5 million dollars. All of the other residential treatment centers increased as well, but Devereux’ increase is very dramatic. Is it a question of capacity for Advoserv in Delaware as well as the other out of state residential treatment centers? Or is there something more to it?

The Delaware Autism Program (DAP) is the only state-wide autism program of it’s sort in the country. The Statewide Director for DAP is Vincent Winterling. He accepted that position in 2009. As per the Devereux website, Winterling was “Former National Coordinator, Neurodevelopmental Disorders and Former Director, Devereux Institute of Clinical Training & Research (ICTR) Consultants. Is there a connection between the rise in Devereux Foundation placements coming from Delaware and the head of the autism program in Delaware having very close ties with the organization?

I would have to imagine going from such prestigious positions with Devereux to a state paid position would have to result in a very large pay cut. But LinkedIn shows he also holds positions at A-B-C Consultants as Associate Director and Director of Vincent Winterling, Ed.D., LLC. All three of his current positions have been held since 2009, the same year he left Devereux after 19 years of employment there. No information was found for why Winterling left Devereux. In the years since he left Devereux, many school boards across Pennsylvania and New Jersey have hired Winterling for consulting services for special needs children.

In the fall of 2010, there was statewide concern about shutting down some of the residential group homes servicing autistic children within Delaware. On October 1st of that year, the News Journal published an article about the situation, and the journalist covering the story wrote: “Winterling, who declined to be interviewed for this story, said in an August interview with The News Journal that the homes should be closed and children in need of these services should be sent elsewhere. This would mean these children would be sent to neighboring states, with Delaware absorbing costs of $150,000 to $200,000 per child a year.”

Meanwhile, questions have risen amongst many school districts about what they actually paying for. In an article written by Melissa Steele for the Cape Gazette on August 16, 2013, she wrote “While all children are entitled by law to a free and appropriate public education, the high cost of residential care raises questions. What services are special needs children receiving in return for tuition costs? Who evaluates the cost of services, and who determines whether the services are effective? Months of effort to uncover answers to these questions have failed to produce any understanding of these costs. Repeated efforts to access facilities that accept taxpayer money or obtain information about services students receive have been met with refusals on grounds that providing this information would violate student privacy.”

I will be doing even more research into this subject in the future. If anyone has any information about the Interagency Collaborative Team, Devereux Foundation, Vincent Winterling or the other residential treatment centers Delaware sends these kids to, please email me at the address provided in the About Me section of this blog. In the meantime, it looks like the IEP Task Force, created through Senate Concurring Resolution 63, is set to begin meeting this month. One of the mandates of the resolution states the DOE and school districts must provide any information requested. Maybe the task force will be able to get more answers on this expensive, puzzling mystery.

Delaware DOE: The Eye of the Hurricane in Special Education Part 2 #netde #eduDE @usedgov @delaware_gov

I’ve done some more research on the treatment centers lately, but it’s hard to find concrete information on them. By all appearances, it looks like they are there to help these children. The key word there is appearance. More to come on this…

Exceptional Delaware

In any hurricane, the outer bands which are furthest from the eye, can cause the most damage. If the DOE is the eye, resting comfortably in Dover, then what lies to the west and north, causing irreversible damage? That would be the children placed in out-of-state private placements because Delaware does not have the capacity.

The Interagency Collaboration Team. What is it, and what do they do? It is a group of nine individuals, from various child services in Delaware. The members are a representative from the following groups: Division of Prevention and Behavioral Health Services, Division of Family Services, Division of Youth Rehabilitative Services, Division of Developmental Disabilities Services, Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, Office of Management and Budget, Controller General, Exceptional Children Resources Group (DOE), and the Teaching and Learning Branch (DOE). The coordinator is Linda Smith. Care to hazard a guess which of the above…

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Delaware DOE: The Eye of the Hurricane in Special Education Part 2 #netde #eduDE @usedgov @delaware_gov

In any hurricane, the outer bands which are furthest from the eye, can cause the most damage. If the DOE is the eye, resting comfortably in Dover, then what lies to the west and north, causing irreversible damage? That would be the children placed in out-of-state private placements because Delaware does not have the capacity.

The Interagency Collaboration Team. What is it, and what do they do? It is a group of nine individuals, from various child services in Delaware. The members are a representative from the following groups: Division of Prevention and Behavioral Health Services, Division of Family Services, Division of Youth Rehabilitative Services, Division of Developmental Disabilities Services, Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, Office of Management and Budget, Controller General, Exceptional Children Resources Group (DOE), and the Teaching and Learning Branch (DOE). The coordinator is Linda Smith. Care to hazard a guess which of the above groups she belongs to? The DOE of course.

The ICT’s main purpose is to hear cases about a very unique, rare group of students where all resources of the schools and the state can no longer help a student with special needs.  Typically, it is due to behavior issues.  On Children & Educators First, Elizabeth Scheinberg wrote about the DOE’s response, how the student could be educated at school but problems in the home prevent that from happening.  My contention is most of these students were not accommodated extensively the way they should have been.  Most of these students are in their teenage years, but the special education process has to begin earlier for it to have the desired effect.  You can give a 13 year old an IEP, but if he should have had one for the past 4-5 years, it will be much harder for the student to adapt.  This is the world we live in.

Why is the ICT so damaging to families?  When a child is put into a placement at a residential facility out of state, the funding for it is paid by Delaware.  The parents are allowed to visit the child, but they cannot move to the state.  If they do, the funding would no longer be covered by Delaware since the parents are not citizens of Delaware any longer.  The assumption is a student would not be out of state permanently, but sadly, this has not always been the case.  This can results in a  student going years without being an active member of a family unit.  They say the hardest thing a parent will ever go through is the death of a child.  This would have to be the second hardest thing.  For a parent to even be put into a position of making a choice like this would have to be something agonizing.  If there are siblings, it would have to be what is best for the majority.  I have such compassion and respect for any parent having to make these hard choices, and my heart cries out to them.

So who writes the annual reports for ICT? That would be the director of the Exceptional Children Group, Mary Ann Mieczowski. It seems like she is a part of every single major decision that happens with special education in our state. I see her name on everything. Should one person have that much power? And where is Secretary of Education Mark Murphy during all these decisions ICT are making?  He does read the report when it is released in February the next year.  At least his name is on the distribution list.

Between 2012 and 2013, the number of cases reviewed went from 105 to 120. Out of those 120, 104 were male, and 16 were female. Out of the 120 total, 18 were between the ages of 5-12, 64 were between 13-17, and 38 were 18-21. Of the cases heard, 97.5% were placed in private placements, be it day services or residential services. The other 2.5% (3 cases), received 1:1 care from a paraprofessional in a public school setting.

What is startling about this is the 2004 numbers, where 101 out of the 217 received 1:1 instruction. That reached a high of 137 in 2006, and went up and down the next few years. And then the numbers plunged down to 22 in 2010, 6 in 2011 and 2012 each, and then 3 in 2013. What changed? Needs based funding. Before needs-based funding was signed off by Governor Markell in February 2011, the ICT team determined 1:1 instruction. Needs-based funding eliminated those seven other voices to determine those types of services. To get those types of services, the IEP team has to agree. What this means, is a child has to pass a checklist to qualify, the district would then have to approve it, and then the DOE. The ICT would only see it if no other available resources were left. So what happened between 2009 and 2010, when the 1:1 instruction dropped from 86 to 22? Needs based funding wasn’t around then. At least it wasn’t the law. Governor Markell didn’t sign it until a year and a half later. It appears the DOE started needs based funding before the bill was even signed by the Governor.

In the 2013-2014 school year, the number of Complex Special Education needs based funding was a total of exactly 2400 students. 59 of those went to charter schools. Out of those 59, 22 went to the two charter schools that deal with IEPs for a huge percentage of their student population. The rest of the highly esteemed charters, that use school enrollment preference as on ongoing process, well they served a whopping 1.5% of the complex special education students. And out of those 19 remaining charter schools, 9 of them had NO complex special education students. The charter schools with no complex special education students are the following: Campus Community School, Charter School of Wilmington, Delaware Academy of Public Safety & Security, Delaware College Prep, Delaware Military Academy, Kuumba Academy, Providence Creek Academy, Reach Academy, and Thomas Edison. I know there are other schools in their areas that provide services for students meeting some of those complex needs, but really? Not one student?

What the ICT report does not have demographics for speaks more than for what it does. No race is selected for any of these children. There is no county, school district or type of school listed. We don’t know if they are coming from public schools, charter schools, or vocational schools. We don’t know what type of incidents lead to a student coming to this ICT group. The report has more holes in it than a box of cheerios. It gives the most basic and superficial information it can. It doesn’t give a list of the different placement centers for these children, just some vague information about averages. But thank the Lord for Delaware Online Checkbook, cause we can figure this out real fast.  At least where the money is going.

The below information has been taken out of the Delaware Online Checkbook, for the four main residential placements these students have been taken to as a result of ICT placements. Also included is High Road, owned by a company called Specialized Education Inc., which is a day school. All of the numbers were found under the Department of Education, Special Needs category:

Advoserv (in Delaware):
2014: $4,622,298.43
2013: $4,238,629.34
2012: $4,140,372.66
2011: $2,937,639.80
Total: $15,938,940.23

Benedictine School For Exceptional Children (Maryland):
2014: $1,451,168.29
2013: $1,131,947.86
2012: $1,007,155.31
2011: $461,846.27
Total: $4,052,117.73

Devereux Foundation (Pennsylvania):
2014: $1,731,214.40
2013: $644,637.00
2012: $381,239.00
2011: $221,556.00
Total: $2,978,646.40

Specialized Education of Delaware (High Road) (Wilmington):
2014: $2,063,768.00
2013: $1,458,419.00
2012: $1,468,338.00
2011: $1,387,107.00
Total: $6,377,632.00

Woods (Pennsylvania):
2014: $878,796.00
2013: $417,320.00
2012: $489,725.00
2011: $761,412.00
Total 4 years: $2,547,253.00

Yearly Totals of all the above schools:

2014 Total: $10,747,245.12
2013 Total: $7,890,953.20
2012 Total: $7,486,829.97
2011 Total: $5,769,561.07

In a three year period, the costs for these facilities nearly doubled.  Is Delaware being swindled?  The report for the 2014 fiscal year hasn’t even come out yet, and won’t be seen by the governor until February 2015, and the price tag for just these facilities went up nearly $2.85 million dollars.  In one year.  There were 9 more students being sent out of state this year.  What is even more interesting is the costs of some of the out-of-state placements. The Benedictine School went from $51,952 in 2010 for an average year’s tuition, to $99,697 in 2013. That is a huge increase! Pennsylvania’s costs for these schools has increased dramatically. My guess, based on the data, is Devereux has become the “go-to” place for many of these students. Additionally, these facilities receives millions of dollars from the school districts in the state.  The DOE pays 70% of the bill, and the school districts pay the remaining 30% according to Alison May with the DOE.  Shorehaven in Maryland was used years ago, but for some reason it is not anymore. School districts like Christina and Red Clay Consolidated still use them.

If you calculate the yearly costs with the school districts paying 30% of the bill, the numbers increase even more, and also include a per student average on any private placement based on the number of students from the last 3 years of annual reports:

2014: $15,353,207.31   Average Cost per Student: Unknown until Annual Report comes out with # of students

2013: $11,272,790.28   Average Cost per Student: $96,348.63 (based on 117 placements)

2012: $10,695,471.38   Average Cost per Student: $108,035.06 (based on 99 placements)

2011: $8,242,230.10     Average Cost per Student: $98,121,79 (based on 84 placements)

The above costs don’t include what other agencies in Delaware pay as part of the total bill. It is nowhere near what the DOE  and the school districts are paying, but the high amount of money going to these facilities as a collective whole in Delaware is astonishing.  Other costs, which the parents get reimbursed for is mileage when they are visiting their children.

Last year, Melissa Steele with the Cape Gazette, wrote an article detailing the rising costs of these facilities. Many attempts to find out more information were thwarted not only by the facilities, but also the Delaware DOE. Confusion over needs based funding and ICT placements received contradictory statements by people at the DOE.  It was an excellent piece of journalistic work, and it won awards for investigative journalism.   It should be read by legislators, parents, teachers, administrators and journalists.  http://discoveramericasstory.com/view_article.html?articleId=CPG0816201301801

In going through all the reports for the ICT going back 5 years, I noticed a very odd trend.  Included below is the ratio of in-state placements versus out of state placements.  The out of states are always higher.

2013 51 students: Ratio of in-state/out-of-state: 37.2% (19)/62.8% (32)
2012 42 Students: Ratio: 45.2% (19)/54.8% (23)
2011 36 Students: Ratio: 38.9% (14)/61.1% (22)
2010 35 Students: Ratio: 45.7% (16)/54.3% (19)
2009 31 Students: Ratio: 45.2% (14)/54.8% (17)

In every single year, the number of in-state is less than 50%, no matter what the number is. It would almost seem like, and I really hate to even think this, there are contracts with some of these out-of-state facilities based on the number of residential placements the ICT grants. If this is true, then ICT is playing a numbers game. I would hope it’s because Advoserv doesn’t have the capacity.

The rise of autism may have played a huge role in ICT getting rid of 1:1 instruction. Rates for autism have skyrocketed in the first 15 years of this century. By providing needs based funding, the DOE has essentially removed one of the key components of the original ICT process. They have brought the 1:1 instruction under their own roof with no one else to challenge it. I don’t think it is a coincidence that outside lawsuits have magnified greatly since needs based funding began. As well, zero tolerance towards bad behaviors at school has significantly increased. The results are not surprising once you see a clear picture.

Needs Based Funding comes around, gives schools a SET amount for the whole school year, zero tolerance policies result in increased behavior issues, special education departments and school psychologists deny A LOT of IEP requests, lawsuits rise, common core is introduced, standardized testing becomes the barometer for school, teacher and student success, and Delaware gets bad grades for special education 3 out of the past 4 years. There’s more. The US DOE’s special education unit, OSEP, decides to stop a crucial part of compliance monitoring. They decide to stop doing in-school visits. The Delaware DOE decides to audit schools on a 3 year cycle, but change that to 5 years without any notification on their website whatsoever. This is all in a four year period.

Who watches the watchmen? Certainly not the feds. They just seem to care about overall results with special needs kids. The legislature? Maybe not in the past, but that could change depending on the elections in November. It remains to be seen what the IEP task force will do. Nothing has been heard about it since the House of Representatives passed it on July 1st. Parents? Probably the ones keeping a tab on them the most. Attorneys are certainly watching every move the schools and the DOE make. Advocates are great, but do they have the ability to change something on a state level? Sometimes, but not the big picture. The media may do stories here and there, but nothing that impacts dramatic change. So it seems to be left to us bloggers and reporters like Melissa Steele, plugging away and doing the research. What we need though is eyewitness testimony to what other parents have seen. The DOE is getting away with a lot, and people need to know about it.  The problem then becomes, what do you do about it?  A state can’t just shut down a DOE.  How are they held accountable when issues like this arise?  It’s complicated, it’s messy, and it’s just beginning.

Things are only going to get worse. The Smarter Balanced Assessment is going to be a disaster. Common Core is going to die a slow death in Delaware, but it’s time is coming. It’s already begun in many other states. What comes out of this will determine education in Delaware. We can stop the corporate takeover of education in our state, and try to come up with something meaningful, something good for our state. Or we can continue the way we have been. With the best and brightest finishing at the top, and the unwanted, unprivileged, poor, and disabled students getting scraped off the bottom with a spatula and thrown into a world where nothing makes sense.