In an interview, Superintendent Joe Mastrocola said this review is part of an effort to discover where savings can be made.
“I need some time to analyze the report,” he added, saying that he needs to confer with the department’s special education professionals to determine what direction will best help Peabody’s student population.
School Committee members already had some concerns about the school, but the dwindling numbers seemed to sharpen the board’s attention.
“Something’s changed,” Dunne said. “When it’s going down to these levels, we have to look at that.”
She speculated that the drop in attendance could be caused by some teens going into other programs, including a night school provided by the city and the Peabody Learning Academy at the Northshore Mall, which is supported by Simon Properties.
“We definitely have to look at the cost,” she said. “But knowing what it cost to send (special needs) kids out of the district. ... We need to look at the benefits to the student, as well as the cost.”
In some cases, she said, medical needs could be involved. Other systems have seen cases where a single special needs student runs up costs exceeding $100,000.
“When the numbers are that small,” School Committee member Dave McGeney said after the meeting, “maybe outsourcing is the way to go. ... It’s an extraordinarily high cost per student.”
The issue of putting high school kids in a middle school has been raised before, and McGeney suggested that it might be the major reason for the program’s apparent failure.
“When the kids have been at the Higgins for three years, they don’t want to go back to the Higgins,” he said. “... They want to be with their peers.”
McGeney believes that Palladino gave a fair estimate of the community school’s daily attendance.
“Nine is what actually shows up on any given day,” he said.