SEPAC – South Orange/Maplewood

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SEPAC Letter to BOE Regarding 2018-2019 SOMSD Budget

March 23, 2018

Dear Members of the Board,

We are writing to express our support for the proposed 2018-2019 SOMASD budget and to ask that you approve it on Monday evening. 

We are encouraged that the current Administration seems to realize that the solution to historical programming and budgetary problems in special education is investment in teachers, support programming and data analysis rather than budget cuts or maintaining the status quo. 

For many years, past Administrations and Boards had sought to “fix” the district’s special education financial issues by proposing cuts to core in-district services.   The list is long, from eliminating full-day special ed pre-k, to contracting out paraprofessionals, to proposing deep cuts to co-teaching staff and to hiring expensive consultants to identify even more cuts.  Further, past Administrations and Boards had been far too complacent in supporting and promoting ineffective leadership in special education despite outcries from parents and other stakeholders.

All of this has led us to where we are now – with still-high levels of dis-satisfaction and mistrust among many parents and staff, with out-of-district tuition costs skyrocketing and crowding out other spending priorities, and with a revolving door in supervisory staff.

We hope that the current budget proposal signals an end to the era of under-investment in in-district special education programming.  But even after adopting this budget, there will be much more to do.  In our recent meetings with the Administration, we have made several recommendations which we would like to see implemented to build on the progress committed to in the budget:

Professional Development

– Mandatory special services professional development for ALL district staff geared toward enhancing differentiated instruction and co-teaching methods and empowering special education teachers in general education settings

– Adding a special services “coach”, who would be an expert on special education teaching methodologies who would act as a resource in supporting staff with ongoing professional development

 

Resources

– Review of caseworker and supervisor workloads and staff levels which recognizes the increased special ed enrollment and teaching staff as well as the prospect of bringing back/retaining some of our most challenged students in-district

– Adding supports related to the STEM realignment to ensure that students currently struggling in level 2 math and all students who will be “leveling up” this Fall have the resources they need to succeed

– Adding one or more full-time dual-certified substitute teachers who can be the first on call for teacher absences, in order to avoid the all-to-frequent situation of IEP violations due to the shortage of qualified substitute staff.

 

Paraprofessionals

– Mandatory ongoing training provided by SOMSD

– Utilizing all opportunities within SOMSD’s contractual rights to improve the quality of paraprofessionals  through taking action pursuant to performance and feedback monitoring

 

Other Recommendations / Requests

– Full implementation of the 504 Policy

– While not necessarily impacting the budget, we have recommended Special Services Transition Night events for families of students entering kindergarten / 6th grade / 9th grade and 3rd grade at Jefferson

– We have requested inventories and locations of multi-sensory technology (i.e. smart boards or more current technology) in special ed classrooms as well as of installed sound field (FM) systems.  We have been assured by the Administration that these requests have been submitted to the Technology Department, however we have not as yet received any data.  

We appreciate your and the Administration’s work on the 2018-2019 budget, and, again, we support its adoption.  We look forward to continuing our partnership with the district to improve the educational experience for special needs students, and we would be happy to further discuss our recommendations or answer any questions you may have.

 Sincerely,

SOMA Special Education Parent Advisory Committee

Erin Siders, President

Reesa Salomon, Vice President

Mike Thompson, Policy Officer

Bernadette Hackler, Communications Officer

Nedra Cabbagestalk, Secretary

Jenny Lindstrom, Board Liaison

Mike Donoghue, Budget Committee


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