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An enrollment jump and a shortage of Board of Cooperative Educational Services classrooms puts the Cheektowaga-Sloan School District in a bind for space, according to officials.

Enrollment districtwide now stands at about 1,550, up by 75 students this year over last. That's about a 6 percent jump, a significant increase for a small inner ring suburban district with few resources, said Superintendent James P. Mazgajewski.

But there's a bigger problem.

About 65 percent of the 75 students came in with expensive special education needs. That would be tough enough for a district where budgets are now routinely rejected by voters, since the cost of educating a single special-needs child can run as high as $45,000 per year.

"We are mandated to provide this," said Board President Edward Bednarczyk. "I don't think a lot of times residents realize the cost that tacks on and how it affects the tax rate."

Now there is another pinch. The Erie I Board of Cooperative Educational Services -- where Cheektowaga-Sloan sends its students with more severe special education needs -- is out of classroom space. So far, BOCES has turned about a half-dozen children back over to the district.

Mazgajewski said that means the district must absorb the children, who in some cases are severely disabled, back into its schools.

He said some go into "self-contained" special education classes that the district is staffed to provide. But others must be placed in "blended classes," where regular and special education students are taught together.

"It creates a little difficulty because these students are used to a more structured environment," said Mazgajewski.

The district may have to place at least one of the more severely disabled students in private placement for services, he added. Cases like that one, the most expensive, previously were sent to BOCES where districts were able to save substantially on the specialized care.

But BOCES can't find enough available classroom space to lease, so it is now limiting how many children it will serve from each district. The reason is because many districts have taken back space previously rented to BOCES to provide services for some of their own less severe cases, "in house."

With more children now in the district then ever before, and more of them with special needs, Mazgajewski said, the district schools are now filled to capacity. He added that since enrollment is difficult to gauge there is no way to know if the upward trend will continue.

"We're in a bit of a bind, but we're going to see if we can ride it out," he said.

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