Monday, March 1, 2010

Special Ed needs meaningful discussion, is the status quo working?

So .... after reading the CAC parent letter about the MGT report, and characterizing it as recommending a "dismantling" of MDUSD Special Ed programs, it seems clear that CAC did not like the report recommendations. If I am correct, CAC agreed with the choice of MGT, or perhaps even recommended MGT as the firm to conduct the study. Now, MGT came up with a solution that could, if adopted, save the district upwards of 29.5 million dollars. (See Exhibit ES-1 on page 10 of the MGT study).

Also according to the study, I see that it notes that our students are not performing as well. The report notes "Lower percentages of students with disabilities scoring at each level for both English and Language Arts and Math compared to the state." Are we concerned that it appears our special ed students are underperforming when compared to the state and other districts? (Exhibit 1-5).

I guess what I'm curious about, and maybe others are as well, is what is the solution? For a savings of 29.5 million dollars it certainly seems the report deserves a good, objective look, don't you think? In light of the findings that our kids are underperforming those statewide and in comparable districts, shouldn't we consider there might be a better way? I'm just asking . . . and hope we can bring some intelligent, objective solutions to the table.

In light of the fact that special ed is ~23% of our district's budget, yet serves only 11% of our students, it seems we need to be diligent in the assessment of what next...

Are kids transported all over because specific programs are built in particular (sometimes far away) locations, and not necessarily served at their home schools?

Should Principals be empowered at their own school sites? Or are the directives from the "top down" (district to school site) the best way?

I'd like to see discussion amongst parents. Objective, thoughtful discussion and ideas would be useful now. Completely bashing the report in light of some of the discoveries within it, hardly seems reasonable. So what next? Share your ideas here.


  1. Great post!

    Too often the immediate reaction is "don't cut our sacred program." We all know Special Ed is a political hot button issue and a resource intensive program. I haven't read the report, but knowing that the district is mandated to provide the service I have to assume that the report suggests a consolidation or outsourcing of the required services. With this context, I'm sure a creative more effective solution can be found that as the post suggests, may improve the quality of the service and realize a cost savings...isn't that the goal?
    If the reaction to every proposal is "that is not negotiable" then we will continue to do business using the McHenry model...and we all know where that got us.

  2. No one wants their programs cut. But general ed is taking the unprecedented BRUNT of the cuts and it's time to take an overall look at our system.

  3. This is a great post. 29 million dollars! That would be a lot of money to the general fund. Given all the cuts the district has to make this report definitely needs to be looked at objectively! Especially if we are spending that kind of money and our special ed kids are still underperforming those throughout the state. It looks to me like it is time for a dismantling of the special ed department, the status quo is not working!

  4. 6:58, the 23 million is just what we'd save, not what we spend, we apparantly spend much more.

  5. I do not have a special ed child, but if I did, and they were still underperforming the rest of the state, then it is time for change. I can tell you what I see what happens at one of the wealthier schools in MDUSD with their resource dep't. This resource specialist spends a considerable amount of time standing around, and, from what I can tell, not doing much of anything. Where other specialists are constantly assessing or working with children, this one doesn't appear to want to. She has parent volunteers who come in, I/A's who come in and she stands like a prison guard making sure everyone is working.
    If there could be a $29 million dollar shake up, God Bless. Not all schools are as bad as this one, and many resource specialists work long hours,but this one should maybe be started with.

  6. oops, correct myself.. 29 million is what we'd save. Can someone tell me what is the budget on special ed. I read 23% of budget, but what is that in real dollar? What percentage of the special ed budget does 29 million represent?

  7. "will principals be able to handle the extra workload?"

    This is the most ridiculous line of all when talking about this special ed issue. Principals are still doing so little in this district. Nothing has changed. Our principal is scheduled for district meetings 3 out of 5 days this week, yesterday's taking all day long.

    This district is still being run so poorly. Throwing money around and wasting resources like a high paid principal with benefits is truly wasteful.

    I just don't see how anyone can complain about cuts to the budget when we're still throwing money away every day.

  8. At my son's school there is a student who has 2 full time assistants.

    How can this possibly be justified? My son is a general ed student who is struggling to keep up with his everyday work, and barely gets attention in his classroom because there are 34 students in there. While he struggles, there is a student down the hall with two full time assistants, plus a special ed teacher.

    This is so wrong.

  9. 5:41, thanks for calling it ridiculous. It's a question. Please tell me more, I'm curious. 3 of 5 days your principal is off campus? Is this elem, middle or high? Do you have a VP?

    I assume then you are in favor of more local / Principal control over the special ed kids in their own home schools?

    Can you please expand on how you think this will work vs. just calling it ridiculous and complaining? I'm honestly open to hearing ideas, but I'm so sick of the complaints with no solutions.

  10. I have a hard time believing any student could have TWO full time assistants. If you're talking about a severely handicapped individual then that is a possibility, but then what is the alternative?

  11. I think part of the problem is getting rid of people in the district who do nothing, at all levels. Hopefully they will clean house soon.

  12. My opinion is that if a child needs not one, but TWO full time assistants, then perhaps that child is not ready for "mainstream." Perhaps we do need to build community schools for special ed with resources all in one place and stop with this PC version of mainstream where they're in our general ed classrooms but with hundreds of thousands in assistants and help , not to mention the constant threat of lawsuits. I'd be curious if you pooled all the kids in an individual school site location and brought them all back from where they are being bussed to and work locally, what could be done? Maybe not in mainstream classrooms, but on their home school campus and interacting with homeschool/neighborhood kids.

  13. and when I said "community" school, I meant just that.. build "special ed" community schools IN THEIR OWN COMMUNITIES. Each school campus could have a special ed componant with local resources and control. Hmm, what a concept?

  14. 5:41 p.m.

    Don't know who your principal is but I have two kids in different schools. When it's passing period they are in the halls ensuring children are behaving. At lunch they are walking the campus. During the school day, they are meeting with parents, handling discipline, evaluating teachers, answering parents email, etc. At night they are at PFC meetings, attending sporting events at their school, going to auctions, etc.


    That is called segregation and it's illegal!

  15. absolutely not! you're wrong ! Segretation is not putting a child in an appropriate learning environment and with appropriate assistance. You're wrong. What's really wrong is that the kids NOW are underperforming with our current system. Kids are bussed all over kingdom come and are still underperforming. They need 2 full time aids at OUR taxpayer expense just to function in a clasroom? THAT can't be good for them either... put them so they are optimally learning, where they are to their fullest potential. Fullest potential is not with 2 aids. I could do advanced calculus with 2 aids too , that doens't mean I actually know how to do it!

  16. I look at the models of some of the schools w/ special ed componants. There is a special class where they have all their resources, as possible they come into general ed classrooms and participate with the other children in assemblies, PE as possible and other activities. Some schools even bring in the general ed class to work with an interact with the special ed kids, like "friends" and reading, and games, etc. Some schools even have a "club" (of sorts) where the general ed kids sign up to take a recess or lunch to play games and read and have fun with the special day classes. "Seperate" does not mean segregation. It means they have all their resources in a classroom , but interact to the best of their ability with the whole school. Just because 2 aides can help a student participate in everyday general ed classes, doesn't mean he/she should. 2 aides to me means that child is probably outside of their range of comfort. Like the other poster said most of us could do ANYTHING with 2 aides/experts with us. I really like the models I've seen at some schools where their are classrooms and resources built at the local school site and then the kids also interact with general ed kids who are also their neighbors.. not after being bussed 2 hours a day to various locations.

  17. I have a special Ed kid and I can tell you first hand why they are underperforming in language arts and math. The programs they use don't work with a child who has a learning dissability and the resource teachers and district refuse to look at a program that does work! They all have their eyes closed to 30 years of research. By spending a little to get a program (i mean very little) they could save a ton eevery year. I have been telling them this for 3 years now. They just look at me with blank faces and say huh.

  18. I have to agree with 9:19am- It's possible that the child with two aides is not someone who should be mainstreamed.

    Think about it. A child that disabled is mainstreamed in name only. There is really no interraction with other students as the child is likely to severely handicapped.

    Mainstreaming works when there is a benefit to all children. After all, parents of general ed students want their kids to have an enriched experience too.

    There are definite advantages to having some special ed or learning disabled students mainstreamed, but parents who want their children (who needs two full time aides) in a classroom--that is not an advantage to anyone but that one child and it is not a good use of our tax dollars.

    You can go to a private school and get that kind of attention, just like general ed students sometimes choose the private school route because they think it is better for their kids.

  19. 10:33

    If students go to a private school, the district has to pay the entire cost.

    Don't you know that there are MDUSD special needs students on the East coast that the district BY LAW has to pay. This includes flights for families to see the kids or bringing them home for the holidays.

  20. Have the County Offices of Education experienced any budget cuts or layoffs? What do they do there in relation to the Districts?

  21. By federal law, all children have the right to a "free and appropriate" public education in the "least restrictive environment." Whether a special needs child is mainstreamed in a district classroom or sent to a "community school," the school district of residence is responsible for the cost.

    In the late 1990s (when Paul Allen was MDUSD superintendent--and Dick Allen, Linda Mayo, and Gary Eberhart were on the school board) parents of special needs students successfully sued the district (Spieler v MDUSD) for not adequately serving their children. In the resulting Consent Decree the district agreed to improve facilities and programs over the span of ten years so students with special physical and emotional needs could attend schools in their home district. Not only would attending a district school help the student feel like and actually be a member of the regular school community, the cost of educating that student would be less than his/her attendance at a "non-public" or "special" school.

    Over the past ten years Mt. Diablo has earned kudos from those overseeing the Consent Decree for the improved access its special needs students have to "regular" classrooms, programs, and services. Some of the district's programs, such as the collaborative classroom, are considered models in California.

    Yes, the special education program is expensive. The government pays only a fraction of the costs for something that's mandated. Cuts in MDUSD's program actually have been made each year, but given the economy, more are needed, just as other district programs have been reduced and even eliminated. Parents of special needs students understand this.

    The Community Advisory Committee (the parent oversight group mandated by the Consent Decree) developed list of suggested reductions totaling several million dollars; at least one board member has told them he is not interested in seeing it. He prefers the MGT report. Can the CAC and other special education parents be assured that the board will carefully consider each item on MGT's $29 million list of reductions? Or, has become the Board majority's usual practice, will one board member simply move the whole list and the majority vote to approve it without the discussion the parents want and deserve to hear?

    Like parents of students in school athletics, in school bands and orchestras, in advanced placement and enrichment courses that have been placed on the chopping block, parents of special needs students are strong advocates for their children. Hearing that the program may be cut dramatically, they understandably want to make a case for what must be maintained.

    Many of the posts here refer to one problematic employee as evidence that the special education program is wasteful. The report notes some parent and staff complaints that could be used to support massive cuts. It's important to note that the program not only serves about 4,000 students who've been identified for services, but hundreds of others who are referred each year and must be tested, assessed, and discussed by teachers, principals, administrators and parents. The MGT reduction list affects not just special education, but student services as well; in short, all students and all staff will be impacted by whatever decision the board eventually makes as a result of the MGT report.

    For the past year the MDUSD Board has approved serious budget cuts, rearranged staff, and made other significant decisions with little noticeable "meaningful discussion" or communication with staff, parents, or the public. The article on this blog calling for such discussion in regard to special education reads as if a board member wrote it. Let's hope so. The Board needs to give at least as much credence to employees and parents who interact with students--all students--as they give to a Florida consulting firm. A meaningful discussion about this and other district issues would be welcome.

  22. Anon 12:50 - you stated: "The Community Advisory Committee (the parent oversight group mandated by the Consent Decree) developed list of suggested reductions totaling several million dollars"

    Please post the list of cuts endorsed by the CAC.

  23. As a board member I did attend the CAC meeting last night to hear the discussion and I will be listening to the public tonight. I am hoping to hear about the programs that families are having success in. I'm also hoping to hear from community members which cuts could be done or to propose other cuts that could occur. I know that our district staff has reviewed the recommendations in great detail. I'm quite confident that they will make recommendations that will ensure FAPE but also reduce some costs.

  24. To the CAC member 12:50, you talk about lack of "meaningful discussion" - presumably you mean communication. How about posting your list? Why did you not link to , or post the list CAC is proposing? I almost think it's impossible for a group like CAC to govern special ed as you're too close. I think it's good there was an independent report that YOU endorsed and that there are potentially almost 30 million dollars in cuts possible is mind boggling. The fact you don't support the report while YOUR students underperforming is baffling at best without the use of the "list" you mention.

  25. "It's important to note that the program not only serves about 4,000 students who've been identified for services, but hundreds of others who are referred each year and must be tested, assessed, and discussed by teachers, principals, administrators and parents."

    Which is exactly why I said in an earlier post that special ed needs to be redefined. 4,000 special ed kids?? Sorry, that's too many. There's way too many students getting pegged as 'special ed' who quite frankly, are simply less-intelligent or have behavioural issues that could have, should have, been addressed at home.

    Teachers, speak up! Am I right, or am I way off base?

  26. Anon 11:38 said "If students go to a private school, the district has to pay the entire cost.

    Don't you know that there are MDUSD special needs students on the East coast that the district BY LAW has to pay. This includes flights for families to see the kids or bringing them home for the holidays."

    No, I didn't know that.

    How much are we really paying for Special Ed?

    This if from yesterday's CCTimes:

    MDUSD has 4,000 special ed students, about 12% of the student population of about 33,700 students

    Special Ed programs accounted for 23% of the approx. $286 million 2008-09 budget

    MDUSD contributed about $34 million from its general fund to pay its special education costs of nearly $71 million.

    Questions: Who pays for the difference between the $71 million and the $34 million ($37 million)?

    What services are we paying for for Special Ed students?

  27. Anon 11:38- I can't tell if you are being sarcastic or informative.

    I do know that the district pays for some special ed students to go to school on the east coast and all the accompanying expenses.

    This is ridiculous. If the family feels that the school on the east coast serves their child better, why don't they move their?

    This is the "abuse" that turns people off to special ed. You have parents of special ed students, who rightly are their kids advocates, but there is so much that is paid for beyond fair and appropriate.

    Unfortunately, this is one of those topics where you cannot have an honest dialog without feeling like you are a horrible human being for suggesting that parents bear some of the cost beyond FAPE.

  28. 4:04 I completely agree. I heard there are students that are being driven to school by drivers that the district pays for, in Taxis! Please! I'm sorry for the parents whose children are in special ed, who do not abuse the system but it seems many are. They have their hands out and take and push for money to be given to them. That isn't right.

  29. 8:58,
    I'm not just sitting around calling it ridiculous. The district has been told of this issue, and board members contacted. The teacher's union has been informed as well. What did that get us? Nothing. in the end I just feel like i was complaining for no reason. Admins at the dent don't want to hear about principals who aren't doing their jobs.

    So, maybe I'm just venting here and hoping that someone will offer a suggestion. It's pretty bad.

    I think the main issue is that there's really no effective oversight when it comes to principals. They are on their own at their schools and no one looks over their shoulder.

    Maybe the new super will change things. I'm hoping.

  30. Special Ed budget will have to be cut some as part of the overall MDUSD budget cuts.

    Ideally the % of the MDUSD budget for Special Ed would be brought into alignment with their % of the school population.

  31. CAC and others lose all credibility when one of "them" shouts "shut up" at a board member during a meeting (last night's CAC meeting). Did CAC condone that? I wasn't there, but you lose respect when you can't act like an adult. How about someone outs that parent here. Let's see who has some control issues.

  32. I listened to the webcase of the meeting last night. The sound kept cutting in and out so I missed some things but I could have sworn I heard a CAC mom -- didn't catch her name -- say that the district was required to provide her special ed child an education "no matter how much it costs".

    Just let that turn over in your mind for a moment. Words have meaning. Does she really mean what she said? What if it cost $90,0000... or $500,000? Would that be o.k.? The special ed program already takes a disproportionate amount of the district budget. What if it took %50? Is that o.k.? If you take her at her word she thinks it would be.

    We need to get real, people. Given the current state of the CA budget everyone will have to make sacrifices.

  33. Fair and Appropriate does not mean a Cadillac education!

    My kids get a Fair and Appropriate education as general ed students, and quite frankly, it's nothing to write home about.

    Our family values education, so we don't rely on the schools to be our children's sole source for education.

    How is it fair if if the district pays above and beyond for FAPE for special ed students and not for general ed?

    As hard as it is to argue against special ed because of it's nature, I see a rising tide of anger because of the abuse.

    Board Members- You often cite legislation that has your hand tied, but can you direct me to the EXACT part of the law that says that a school district has to pay for a student to attend school across the country?

  34. It makes me mad as a general ed parent. it makes me mad that my kids have struggled with various things over the years and we get nothing. And it makes me madder that the "no matter what" approach of the special ed parents makes their children have a proportionally BETTER education than what my kids get. My kids don't get things "no matter what." So why should anyone in this climate? This isn't a bash against special ed, I understand there are challenges, but general ed students in some cases are barely getting by without the "no matter what" approach and it's NOT fair... it's reverse discrimation if you ask me.

  35. 10:01,
    I'm with you. General Ed kids get screwed in this system. They get so much less than special Ed students.

    I saw it in action today: a special Ed student sitting eating lunch, surrounded by three teachers.

    Something is seriously wrong with that.

  36. I hope some of you go over to Claycord and post your comments on that board. These are great comments and the ones I just read over there are the same old same old. People blaming the school board for everything and insisting that NOTHING should be cut from Special Ed. Special Ed should not be exempt from budget cuts!

  37. 10:07, are you actually reading here or just trying to get readers to claycord ? ... most of these comments here are FOR general ed which means special ed needs to come in line with what the rest of our kids get. I'm all for cutting special ed as needed to bring it in line with comparable services for general ed. The special ed system has gone out of control... it's like that rubber band effect.. the special ed parents and community have stretched it soooooo far with threats of lawsuits , getting paid to transport their own kids, being shipped all over kingdom come when they could probably be served at home - that it has broken, it has broken our current system and it will come springing back if the board has half a brain. You can't possibly ignore 30 million in savings for an UNDERPERFORMING program!

  38. FAPE-does anyone have a link that legally defines this that they can share? I've Googled and Binged and can't seem to find accurate info. Many experts even use this acronym as free appropriate public education rather than fair.

    As a general ed parent, i truly want to understand what special education is legally entitled to before commenting about cuts. Thank you.

  39. Any chance we can get Paul Strange to talk a bit about FAPE?

  40. One kid with two aides means a parent who is in denial and wants her kid to be with regular kids and her kid isn't learning anything and the kids around him aren't learning anything either. The parents are fools and everybody loses.

  41. I sure hope everyone is not suggesting special ed students lose their speech pathologists or their occupation therapist time. I have two children with autism in special ed but they sure dont get any full time assistants! I have a child in the mainstream too but I would rather them cut in the mainstream than special ed because in the mainstream at least they dont have developmental delays like they do in special ed and they may never recover and need the help soo much more than maintstream.

  42. By federal law, all children have the right to a "free and appropriate" public education in the "least restrictive environment."
    Here is part of the problem with our current Special Ed system.
    Explain to me how mainstreaming a child by putting him/her in a regular day classroom with an assistant is the "least restrictive environment" for that child OR the other 33 children in that classroom?
    The child with special needs is going to stand out because they are the only student in the room with an assistant. In the world of children, that will certainly draw attention to that student. And, it poses a distraction to the other students in the room.
    I think in some, definitely not all, cases mainstreaming is actually the "least restrictive environment" for the parent, not the child.
    For some children who qualify as special needs, the least restrictive environment for them is with children with similar needs.
    And, for the other 89% of students who don't qualify as special needs students, the least restrictive environment seems to have been tossed by the way side.
    What about the children who are at the opposite end of the spectrum? Children who WOULD be GATE students, if we could maintain a GATE program? How do we provide them the "least restrictive environment"?
    While the District funds children with special needs to attend private school if a public school can not be found to support their needs, they sure aren't sending any GATE student to private school under the same basis.
    The parents of the 89% of children WITHOUT special needs need to start paying as much attention as the parents of children WITH special needs.
    They need to demand their children are provided the "least restrictive environment" also.
    And we need to pay better attention to what the needs are of our special needs children. Not all of them need the same thing, or the same environment.