Taking a moment to protect our most vulnerable students


Children and adults with special developmental, mental or physical needs are the most underserved population in New York State.

Families and advocates are desperate for increases in funding for a multitude of needed services from educational to residential. There have been broken promises and a disparity of funding for the most vulnerable citizens in the state.

I attended a conference sponsored by the Bronx Developmental Disabilities Council as a parent advocate for my adult daughter with special needs presently living in a supported residence and attending a non-profit day habilitation program.

I learned some very troubling figures which must be addressed by our state and local legislators. Since 2012, state aid for local school districts increased 42 percent. Compare that figure in the same period — 853-approved special education schools received only a 22 percent increase, and 4410 special education preschools providing early intervention received only an 8 percent increase.

Early intervention education has been proven to offer better outcomes for children with special needs, which lead to a reduction of costs in later years.

The turnover rate for certified special education teachers in these schools is appalling. The vacancy rate for these unfilled positions is 28 percent. Imagine a school with more than a quarter of the teaching posts unfilled by qualified teachers. Imagine your child in that school.

More than 60 preschool special education programs have closed across New York State, and 31 of them were in New York City. The families have nowhere to turn.

A conference of New York state politicians, members of the Bronx Development Disabilities Council, direct care providers, advocates for the disabled, individuals receiving care, and their families, was held in Maestro’s Catering establishment on March 8. The room was filled to capacity. Crucial services for the developmentally challenged and most vulnerable citizens in New York are in jeopardy due to lack of funding.

Direct caregivers are forced to have two, and sometimes three, jobs in order to keep up with the cost of living. Some have not seen an increase in wages in 25 years, and the turnover rate amongst caregivers is staggeringly high.

The state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities recommended critical funding, which is desperately needed to raise the minimum wage downstate to $17.72 an hour, and upstate of $15.54 for direct care providers in order to stop the bleed of personnel. Adequate funding for those individuals who are served by the Offices for Mental Health and Alcoholism and Substance Abuse has not increased. Private non-profit agencies are seeking parity with identical state run services for the 2019-20 budget year.

Also, individuals with complex needs and living with their families must have adequately funded supports to provide them with certified residential opportunities.

The state education department has need of $15 million for the recruitment and retention fund to ensure that every student in 4410 and 853 schools have a certified special education teacher and minimum tuition increases comparable to what budgeted state aid general education receives.

The state’s health department seeks 5 percent in the Early Intervention Program Reimbursement Rate, which means an $8 million funding increase. The development disabilities office is working toward a required managed care plan to pay for special supports needed by this population.

A list of public figures represented at this conference was impressive. Speakers included Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, a longtime advocate for citizens with special needs. Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr., was represented by Tracy McDermot. State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi was there.

Also from the Assembly were Carmen Arroyo, Michael Benedetto, Latoya Joyner and Victor Pichardo. Councilmen Andrew Cohen, Andy King and Mark Gjonaj also attended.

Advocates and parents included Mary Bonsignore, Michael Bonsignore, Dahians Rojas, Joey Perez and Jonathan Solomon, who all provided information. Dorothy Stone and Joanne Seigel advocated for early intervention and health services. The development disabilities office was represented by acting commissioner Dr. Theodore Kastner, who discussed managed care options.

New York State’s promise to care for individuals with special needs and their families has not been fulfilled adequately. The funds promised by the governor for a direct service provider wage increase is not in this year’s budget. A cost of living adjustment is imperative because 853 and 4410 schools are unable to pay the teachers anywhere near what local school districts pay, causing a high turnover rate and unfilled positions.

Families of the underserved are desperate for help to protect their loved ones, and are calling on state government representatives to follow through on much-needed funding for our most vulnerable citizens. Our political representatives need to understand that we, the residents of the Bronx, need their immediate help in the budget process to protect our loved ones.

Deborah Eiseman,