Plan to Privatize Therapists for Autistic Students Draws Concerns

Parents, students and educators are blasting a plan they say could hurt some of the most vulnerable children in Waterbury. 

It could end up privatizing dozens of therapists who work with students with autism. 

“They’ve been a tremendous help and a lifesaver really to help with my son,” Naomi Pitts, of Waterbury, said. 

That’s why Pitts showed up to help save the jobs of around 40 behavioral therapists in Waterbury. 

They work with students, up to age 21, who have autism. 

“These people worked with me and they’ve treated me so well. And they’ve helped me in so many ways,” Nicholas Kling, a former student, said. 

On Thursday, students, parents and many of the therapists packed a meeting hoping to convince the Board of Education to switch gears and not to privatize the positions. 

Many are worried about how the change would affect students. Therapists are also concerned including how this could impact their jobs and benefits. 

“Many, including myself, have been with the Waterbury autism program for over 10 years. We have dedicated ourselves to servicing students with challenging needs on a daily basis,” Melissa Stark, president of the Waterbury City Employees Association, said. 

“It’s a matter of saving money and trying to keep jobs and keep the services to the children,” Liz Brown, president of the Waterbury Board of Education, said. 

Brown said the district is dealing with cuts from the state and this idea could help save a $500,000. 

While the board is also looking to slice millions of dollars more from its budget and potentially eliminate a dozen other jobs, it’s hoping to find solutions to address concerns raised on Thursday. 

“I would like to keep their jobs. I think they do an excellent job. I think if we do have to make cuts I would like it more across the board,” Brown said. 

On Thursday, the board voted to forward a budget proposal to city leaders. 

This is now the beginning of a process to figure out how much money the district has to spend and what it will spend it on. 

So a decision about the behavioral therapists is far from final. 

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