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You can't turn around in most city schools without bumping into a student who needs help beyond reading, writing and arithmetic.

Like the girl trying to cope with the image of seeing her brother gunned down in a street-corner shooting.

Or the teen-age truant with drinking and drug problems who is in court more often than class.

Or the foster child who won't smile because he is self-conscious of the chipped tooth that his guardian hasn't bothered to get fixed.

Their education and often their lives suffer as a result.

"We can't work with children the same way we used to 10 or 20 years ago," said Catherine Benjamin, principal of School 57, Broadway Village. "They have so much baggage, we can't teach them the same way.

"They need food, they need care, they need attention, and they're not having those needs met at home. Before we teach them, we have to meet their social, mental and physical needs."

But the major programs that are supposed to help students in special need are lacking themselves.

In particular:

There is a critical shortage of social workers and psychologists to help teachers and principals deal with children's emotional and behavioral problems. Guidance counselors, who help students with academic matters, struggle under staggering workloads.

The high school designated to deal with incorrigible students is plagued by inadequate programs, supplies and facilities. Although senior administrators called for a complete overhaul of the school two years ago, business continues as usual.

Remedial programs, which help students improve subpar reading and math skills, suffer from a lack of money and direction. The district doesn't even track the academic progress of students involved in its largest remedial program.

The failure to provide counseling and remedial services has swollen the enrollment of children placed in special-education programs. The approach is penny-wise and pound-foolish: The district spends about $5,400 for every pupil in regular class and $15,700 for each special-education student.

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