Here is the letter that SEPAC sent to the Board of Education in regards to the 2019-2020 Budget. The content is also shared below.
March 15, 2019
South Orange Maplewood Board of Education
525 Academy Street
Maplewood, NJ 07040
Dear Members of the Board,
I’m writing on behalf of SEPAC as a follow-up to the comments made at the March 11 Budget Workshop.
Again, we thank the Administration staff for their work on the 2019-2020 budget. It is good to again see a budget that does not rely on headcount cuts to balance and in which we are finally seeing meaningful increases in state aid.
We are especially glad to hear of the new Special Ed Supervisor position, which is something SEPAC has been advocating for some time now.
I’d like to re-iterate some of SEPAC’s thoughts on the out-of-district (OOD) projections:
SEPAC fully understands that OOD tuition is one of the district’s key financial challenges, and we of course support efforts to improve in-district programs that will allow for the eventual reduction of tuition costs. This is smart financially, and is also in keeping with the goal of educating students in their least restrictive environment.
That said, as Board members who have served in past years know, prior Administrations routinely projected declines in OOD tuition that never materialized. SEPAC is pleased that the current administration seems as focused on the programmatic side of the equation as on the financial, as one is a prerequisite for the other.
However, the devil remains in the details, and we ask the Board to do its diligence and seek more information about specifics, including:
- Has the district performed an evaluation of current OOD placements to identify gaps in services that need to be filled?
- Other than the additional Supervisor position, what staffing and structuring changes are being made to fill in the gaps?
- What programs are being introduced or enhanced to help fill the gaps? Specifically:
- Will ESS and Istep be expanded? We’ve heard unconfirmed reports that there is a waiting list for ESS and have ongoing concerns that the Istep programs lack effective backup staffing.
- Will the Columbia Academy Program be modified or expanded to support more students?
- What changes are being proposed as part of the elementary school reconfiguration?
- Will the 504 Policy be fully implemented so that the Administration can evaluate what is working and what is not, so that best practices can be shared across the district?
- Will evidence based programs be put in place in the middle schools to assist students with reading comprehension and dysgraphia? I and other SEPAC members have personal experience with this issue. Our students can mechanically read and write, but their evaluations indicate difficulty with comprehension and expression. Yet case managers have told us there is literally no program they can offer these students. I’ve heard of at least one case where this issue was a primary factor leading to an OOD placement.
- What will be done to make sure there are special education teachers in every classroom when needed , and that teacher absences will not impact student services?
This is not an all-inclusive list, but is illustrative of the type of commitments needed to make reductions in OOD tuition plausible.
SEPAC looks forward to continuing to work with Dr. Morana and her staff and will be available to discuss any of these matters in more detail.
On Behalf of SOMA SEPAC
Reesa Salomon, President
Ann Leeb, Vice President
Michael Thompson, Vice President
CC: Dr. Thomas Ficarra
CC: Dr Laura Morana
CC: Mr. Paul Roth
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