March 24th Meeting Minutes

Minutes from the South Orange/Maplewood Special Education Community

March 24, 2015

I. Welcome and Call to Order

Jane Bleasdale chaired the meeting, and began with announcements and updates.

II. Announcements and Updates

Department of Special Services

  • Pat Barker, SOMSD Director of Special Services, reported that there were only minor glitches in administration of the first round of PARCC tests. Dr. Barker and Ella Rideau, Special Services Supervisor K-5, said that the students who took the test were ‘troopers’, about 120-150 opted out, and we don’t yet know what, if any, penalties the district could incur if participation falls below a state determined threshold.

Questions were raised about the reading comprehension sections and if/how tests would be scored for students who had passages read to them; this remains a gray area. Regarding students asking clarifying questions, it was stated that in the past, questions could be reworded but not clarified, and with PARCC, proctors can no longer reword either.

Additional concerns voiced were related to the use of a scribe to type or handwrite test answers (some confusion about what is allowed here) and the frustration by some students who are allowed extra time but finished early and were not able to return to class. Dr. Barker said she welcomed this and additional feedback and would pass it up the appropriate channels.

  • Barker, who will be stepping down on August 1, 2015, said that the Director of Special Services position will be posted next week and is expected to be filled quickly, with input from the newly appointed superintendent.
    • In response to a question regarding training of paraprofessionals, it was explained that the Educational Services Commission trains paras at the beginning of the school year, and the district offers additional training opportunities during the year, e.g. on topics such as data collection for Rethinking Autism. Some more specialized training is offered by Morris Union Jointure. Interviews for the director of the Montrose Early Childhood Education Center, to open in September 2015, will be conducted in the next few weeks.

Board of Education

  • Board of Education Special Education Liaison, Maureen Jones, shared the news that Dr. John Ramos has been named the new SOMSD Superintendent, and that the search committee was impressed with his vision for and experience in special education.

School Liaisons and other updates

  • CHS Liaison Sheila Oliver shared information about two events: “Engaging and Empowering Families of Children with Autism” on April 15, 2015 8:30am-1pm at United Way of Northern NJ, 60 South Fullerton Ave, Montclair; and a “Transition Conference” held by Autism NJ on April 20, 2015 8am-4pm at Renaissance Woodbridge Hotel, 515 US Highway 1 South, Iselin. Ms. Oliver also told the group about Mom2Mom, a 24/7 peer-support helpline for mothers of children with special needs in NJ directed by Rutgers Univ. For more information, call: 877-914-MOM2. Live Chat:

(NOTE: Updates were paused here and resumed following Mila Jasey’s presentation)

  • Jefferson, Clinton, and CHS need new Special Ed liaisons for the 2015-16 school year. Those interested should contact Sonya Selig:
  • Marshall School Liaison Ava Padmore shared plans for events and activities during Autism Awareness Month in April, including distributing bracelets to whole school and possibly a Saturday forum to reach a broader range of parents. This has the potential to become a district-wide effort in the future.
  • Jefferson and MMS Liaison Sonya Selig is working on a sex chromosome disorder awareness day.
  • Out-of-District Liaison, Ann Leeb, reported that she had a productive brainstorming session with Special Services Supervisor for grades 6-12, Rob Schmidt, to find ways to better communicate with families of students in out-of-district placements.
  • SEPAC members Sharon Huetz and Erin Siders also met with Mr. Schmidt, as well as with MMS  Principal Mr. Adams and Assistant Principals Mr. Brown and Mr. Gold, and special education teacher Mrs. Murphy, regarding smoothing the transition from elementary to middle school and will be working with MMS and SOMS principals on outreach and orientation for incoming students and parents.
  • Barry Berg announced four upcoming Parenting Center workshops: “Strength for Their Journey” on April 1st 7:30- 9pm, “Children, Adolescents and Social Media – The Perfect Storm” on April 8th 7:30-9pm, “Mindful Parents/Mindful Children: Practicing Together” on April 13th 7:00-8:30pm, and “Parenting Anxious Children” on April 28th 7:30 – 9:00. For more information, visit:
  • SOMEA and a local parents group are co-hosting a showing of the film “Standardized” on April 8th at 7pm at Maplewood Memorial Library.
  • Special Ed Soccer Clinic was a success and will be run again, and a track clinic is under consideration. Parents should contact the Maplewood Rec Dept with questions or suggestions, e.g. could pre-school aged children participate?
  • Michele Tyler, a representative from SPAN (Statewide Parent Advocacy Network) introduced herself and said that SPAN is looking for parents to work with on the issue of disproportionality in the SOMSD district. She can be reached at


Mike Donoghue (SEPAC Executive committee member) gave the following 2015-16 budget overview:

  • Overall ’15-16 budget is ~ $124mm, up from ~$120mm this year.
  • 1st time in years, no specific SpEd cuts are budgeted.
  • The 5 sped FTE cuts budgeted for this year were not made due to demand.
  • State aid was flat to last year, but is still far below full funding (according to the State’s own formula), and SOMA still fares poorly among districts statewide. Federal IDEA aid was slightly down.
  • Big break this year on healthcare costs which are actually down due to new staff contributions.
  • For only 2nd time in 5 years, BOE has voted to increase operating tax levy by more than 2%. It’s about 2.4%, or about 2.1% all-in including debt service.
  • During the January meeting budget update, there was a question about the impact of PILOTS (payments in lieu of taxes) for real estate developers in the two towns. The BOE has since requested data on enrollments at PILOT’d developments and will analyze for use in potential discussions with the townships.

III.            Presentation: NJ State Assemblywoman Mila Jasey

Ms. Jasey’s Chief of Staff gave a formal introduction that touted the Assemblywoman’s longtime commitment to education and service as a member of the SOMSD President’s Council and Board of Education prior to running for state office. She listed her membership the Education Committee, Higher Education Committee (Chair), and Joint Committee on Public Schools.

  • Jasey then took the floor and talked about some of the current education issues she is engaged with, primarily mandating kindergarten for all districts in the state (87 still do not have full-day) by changing the requirement of ‘mandatory and efficient’ education for all children starting at 6 to start at age 5.
  • On PARCC testing, Ms. Jasey said that she was part of a bipartisan effort that tried to slow its implementation (which was vetoed), and is now looking at what is being done to monitor the impact of the testing and test prep on instructional time and at where all of this testing is leading. It should not be high stakes, punitive, or stressful, but rather inform teachers about where more time and attention is needed so students are learning what they need to.
  • Jasey spoke about vo-tech high schools, citing Union County in particular where there are 5 specialized high schools. She thinks there are not enough seats compared with the number of students who would benefit from this type of setting and instruction.
  • Regarding special education, she mentioned one recent improvement, which is that schools of education in NJ are requiring that those seeking teaching certifications must also get an ‘endorsement’ in special education.
  • When asked about a bill capping increases in special education private school tuitions at 2%, she said that because of the partisan divide, that particular bill was not likely to move forward but that if parents felt this was a needed change, a new, tweaked bill could be initiated and possible brought to a vote.
  • In response to other funding-related questions, Ms. Jasey explained that the crunch can be traced to the federal government, which is supposed to be funding IDEA at 40% and has never paid more than 17%.   She also said that while the state is in such financial trouble, there is little that complaining will accomplish but that it is a time for strategic planning to figure out what can be done when money is again available in the future.
  1. Other Discussion

The formal part of the meeting ended at 9:20, leaving little time for structured breakout groups. Some participants stayed to meet their school liaisons and network.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s