Grad rates climbing for special needs students in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows

During the 2007/08 school year, the six-year graduation rate for students with learning disabilities was 52 per cent, falling from 77 per cent in 2004/05.

Graduation rates for students with learning and behavioural disabilities have risen in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows the past two years, despite trustee claims that special education is underfunded by the provincial government.

After four years of steady declines, the grad rates for students with learning disabilities and behavioural problems have increased steadily since 2008, deputy superintendent Laurie Meston told trustees at Wednesday night’s school board meeting .

During the 2007/08 school year, the six-year graduation rate for students with learning disabilities was 52 per cent, falling from 77 per cent in 2004/05.

The grad rate was also below the provincial average of 59 per cent.

As of the 2009/10 school year, the grad rate for learning disabled students jumped to 67 per cent, above the provincial average of 61 per cent.

Students with behavioural problems saw a similar jump in graduation rates. In 2007/08, their graduation rate was 35 per cent. By 2009/10, that rate was 49 per cent, compared to a 36 per cent provincial average.

Meston said the gains were in part to new technology and additional staffing.

In addition to making available new software that allowed students to dictate assignments and help them with literacy, the district also provided extra staffing hours to secondary schools to support special education students.

However, trustees are concerned that current special education funding is not adequate and plans to send a letter requesting more from the provincial government.

“It has been conservatively estimated that our school district spends twice as much as was funded for each level of special needs students identified,” board chair Ken Clarkson stated in the draft version of the letter.

“Our request is for new monies to be targeted to the serious underfunding problem created by additional services required by special education students. The current formula does not adequately address our most vulnerable students.”

In June, trustees voted to cut the district’s special education budget for this school year by $180,000 in order to balance the district’s $128 million budget.

“We find the rationale to justify the cuts to the special education portion of the budget, quite frankly, disturbing,” Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association president George Serra said at the time. “We believe that the services provided to students by these teachers, notably those students who have distinct learning challenges, are worth their weight in gold.”

However, Serra noted provincial underfunding placed the board in a difficult position.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed, but we understand the challenge [trustees] are faced with.”