FAIRFIELD — Officials in School Administrative District 49 are looking at starting a gifted-and-talented program that would offer advanced course offerings and programs for students who have excelled or show the potential to excel beyond the average.

Gifted and talented programs are mandated in every school district, but the state also grants waivers to districts that make a case the program would create an “undue burden,” including financial hardship.

The Fairfield-based district, which serves Albion, Benton, Clinton and Fairfield, hasn’t had a gifted-and-talented program in at least 15 years, School Board Chairwoman Shelley Rudnicki said.

“As long as I can remember, we haven’t had one,” she said. “I asked about it years ago when my children were in school, and we just never had one. Basically, we were told we didn’t have the money. I don’t know why we never did it.”

In both the 2016-2017 and the 2017-2018 school years, then-Superintendent Dean Baker applied to the state for the waiver, saying the implementation of a gifted-and-talented program would cause an “undue burden” on the SAD 49 budget, according to documents filed with the Maine Department of Education.

Superintendent Reza Namin, who came to the district in September, also applied for a waiver for the 2018-2019 school year, saying he is interested in bringing the program back but will need this year to develop a plan.

A total cost for the program hasn’t been estimated yet, but Namin said he hopes to apply to the state for a subsidy that would cover the cost.

According to the law, schools can apply for a gifted-and-talented subsidy from the state as part of a special education program in lieu of regular elementary or secondary operating costs.

If state funding is unavailable, Namin said, the program would be unfeasible because it would put too much strain on the district budget.

The program would include separate classes and programs for students in kindergarten through grade 12 identified as gifted and talented through a testing process and the input of their teachers.

Some staff members and teachers in the district already are certified in gifted-and-talented programs, and any new hires would be covered by the state if the district secures funding, Namin said.

A proposal to bring the program back probably will go before the full school board Feb. 28, after which Namin would draft a proposal for the program to present to the state in a request for funding.

Currently 21 of about 200 school administrative units in Maine have waivers for gifted-and-talented programs, including Anson-based Regional School Unit 74 and Harmony Public Schools.

“I think any school that doesn’t have a gifted-and-talented program is doing a disservice to their children,” Rudnicki said. “I’m all for it. I’m sure, especially with state money coming in, we’ll be able to do it. We need to do something for our high achievers.”

 

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected] 

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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