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December 14, 2002

Cutting program for deaf reflects political choices

From: Portsmouth Herald, NH - 14 Dec 2002

There were certainly plenty of warnings.

Most New Hampshire voters were well aware that failure to elect a governor who was open to establishing a new revenue stream to fund state government would result in at least some cuts in services, not only at the state level, but within their own communities as well.

Now the piper must be paid and here in the Portsmouth school system, which gets no education aid from the state, that payment involves cutting, at the very least, programs that are not of direct benefit to city students. One of those that most probably will be cut is the 25-year-old program for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The program serves 14 students currently, none of them from the city. They are from surrounding communities that pay tuition to the Portsmouth system in order to attend the program.

While it certainly would be preferable to maintain what is one of only two kindergarten-through-12th-grade programs for the deaf in the state, there are two realities that must be faced.

The first is that with the decision to maintain state aid to education at 2002-2003 levels in the 2003-2004 state budget, almost every school district will be feeling the financial pinch. One of the first things a district looks at when it seeks to cut costs are programs that send students out of district for specialized - and often more costly - services. The Portsmouth program certainly will come under scrutiny in the sending towns and fewer students will, most likely, be given the opportunity to attend even if the program were to continue.

The second issue is the feeling among some educators in sending towns that moving deaf and hard of hearing students out of their communities, even to receive specialized assistance, is not in the best interests of those children since it disassociates them from their friends and neighbors.

The few students served by this program and their families will certainly have their lives diminished if the School Board ultimately decides it must go. But these are the realities of the times we are currently in and the choices we, as voters, have made.

The Portsmouth system's deaf and hard of hearing educational program will not be the last to be cut and the 14 students affected will not be the last to suffer. It is something we all must get used to as every government agency and family tries to deal with the changes in the economic situation this country and world now faces.

- Portsmouth Herald

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