Six state representatives and a state senator heard about budgeting challenges faced by private schools for disabled students during an “Invite Your Legislator to School Day” late last month at a Brockton school that educates and rehabilitates young people with neurological problems.
The May Center School for Brain Injury and Related Disorders welcomed representatives Michelle DuBois and Michael Brady, Democrats of Brockton; Louis Kafka, Democrat of Stoughton; Angelo D’Emilia, Republican of Bridgewater; Mark Cusack, Democrat of Braintree; and Walter Timilty, Democrat of Milton. The senator was John Keenan of Quincy.
“It’s an opportunity for them to tour our school, meet with the students, and see the challenges we face as a private school,” said Andrea Potoczny-Gray, the school’s executive director. “We have a really dedicated, phenomenal group of staff here, and some really successful students.”
These students, from age 5 to 22, face a variety of challenges. Some fell victim to a traumatic event resulting in a brain injury. Others acquired injuries from brain tumors, seizure disorders, diabetic comas, or diseases such as meningitis.
To meet their needs, the campus includes a day school as well as residential facilities with 24-hour care and full-day, year-round behavioral, medical, and rehabilitative services.
The event with legislators was hosted by the Massachusetts Association of 766 Approved Private Schools in response to a House bill that would freeze funding for private schools that serve children with special needs. The organization represents 87 member schools that serve about 7,000 children with special needs.
“Teachers at the May Center School already make $22,000 a year less than public school teachers,” said Jim Major, the association’s executive director. Although the school has a good retention rate, it’s common for private special education schools to have high turnover rates.
“The people that pay the price for that [are] the students,’’ he said, “because they have to deal with the fact that their teachers keep leaving.”
Declan Finn, a 19-year-old Braintree resident, spoke to legislators about his positive experiences at the school after being treated for two brain tumors.
“I feel like for people in politics to say, ‘Let’s cut this one, let’s cut that one,’ they should really have an overview or just like a better idea of what that’s going to do,” he said of proposed cuts. “I don’t think they realize how many lives they could be changing.” Finn is former head of public relations for the student council and coordinates the school’s efforts on Box Tops for Education, a national fund-raising program. He credits the school for his success.
“I feel like I want to have my own life, a good career, a house, maybe kids somewhere along the line,” he said. “Just be the best that I can be for myself. I feel like I can do all of that stuff because of this school. I feel like they helped me get ready for that.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the May Center School’s turnover rate for teachers.