Problems in helping children with special needs

Posted at 9:55 PM, Apr 09, 2018

When a child can’t go to a traditional school setting because of their special needs, where does one turn? Many people will go to a privately-run, state-funded school.

Those non-profits are specialized in serving students with complex needs, but they’re facing debilitating money problems.

At the Cantalician Center, teachers are working a second job after students go home for the day, and it’s not by choice.

Jennifer Rockenstein is a teacher at the Cantalician Center. She sets the curriculum and lesson plans, medical needs and that’s just the beginning.

"We're trying to get them all the foundational skills that can launch them into the adult world, and they can carry them over to their adult life," said Rockenstein.

Many of the students couldn’t be accommodated in their home school district, so they come to the Cantalician Center.

Rockenstein, who has a specialized college education, earns less than her counterparts in those district schools.

Cantalician Center teachers make between $30,000 and $35,000 per year, and no pension.

"We don't make the money that we make at the district so a lot of teachers here end up working more than one job," said Rockenstein. "In the district, you get a retirement plan and we don't have that here. So you've got to figure out how to balance your own life plan."

The reason boils down to state funding. The Cantalician Center and other special needs schools, or ‘853 schools’, operate under a different funding structure than district schools.

"The amount of money that the state gives us is really inadequate to have our staff feel like this can be their career," said Executive Director Anne Spisiak.

In a school where teacher-student relationships are crucial for these students, teacher retention is a problem.

"That's primarily due to the retirement, pension system incentive is not there for our teachers as it would be for a teacher in a regular school district," said Director of Education, Jason Petko.

New York State has provided modest funding increased to ‘853 schools’ over the years. 7 Eyewitness News has reached out to the governor’s office to see if these schools are included in his budget’s $769-million dollar increase in school aid, we have not yet heard back.

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