Stacey Smith is an Oakland school district parent and volunteer who has served on the District GATE Advisory Committee, the school board’s Special Committee on School Based Management, and the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education. I invited her to contribute periodically to The Education Report; any topic she writes about — including the below piece – does not reflect the view of any group. — Katy
By now you may know that the Oakland school board voted to reinstate $1.75 million in cuts it was asked to approve on June 27. The program specialists still have their jobs, and the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education was assured that class sizes and caseloads would not increase and that vacant positions would be filled for 2012-13.
In a press release vetted by high-level special education, finance, and Leadership, Curriculum and Instruction staff that came out late the day before the board meeting, OUSD described the reorganization and the position cuts as something very different than the Sharon Casanares memo I blogged about.
The press release focused on program specialist cuts and additional cuts that would occur and also contained misrepresentations about the program. It said teachers and staff were “versed in the law, theories of learning and disabilities” but not in academic areas, so OUSD had to move students into general education classrooms. This, while so many veteran special education teachers hold general education and special education degrees. This, when the district refuses to accept general education credentialed teachers into their special education credentialing program despite widespread community support for the idea.
Another misrepresentation was that coordinator positions are regularly involved in the development and monitoring of Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs, for special education students — and that program specialists don’t currently coach special education staff or consult with site administration. At a recent board meeting, one program specialist after another noted that was not really true.
And resource specialist caseloads! OUSD claims they “range from 25:1 to 28:1″ so under the proposed change to a standard 28:1 ratio caseloads would only “increase by one, two, or three, or not at all.” According to OUSD, increasing caseloads to 28:1 would also be aligning them with what California Education Code says they should be. The truth is caseloads range from 6:1 to 36:1 (yes, way over legal limits). And the law says the maximum allowable is 28:1, not that it is supposed to be 28:1. The intentional misinterpretation of the law is deeply troubling to me. Caseload is based on individual student need, not some predetermined ratio. Some students need more support than others, and resource specialists provide specialized instruction not available in the general education classroom, not just “support” to general education teachers.
The intentional misinterpretation of the law is deeply troubling to me. Caseload is based on individual student need, not some predetermined ratio. Some students need more support than others, and resource specialists provide specialized instruction not available in the general education classroom, not just “support” to general education teachers.
In addition, the positions that were “vacant due to separations” in the memo, press release and Tony Smith’s report to the board does not mention that many classrooms still have students even if the teacher moves on. If a middle school math teacher left we would replace them, wouldn’t we?
I just read that Tony Smith doesn’t feel he has the support he needs to serve students. I hope that answer didn’t have to do with the board’s vote on special education. If it did, I hope he recognizes that the support he needs is better support from his top level staff. If they had taken the time to engage key stakeholders in a deep examination of how the district serves students with special needs and in real planning and problem-solving, then this would not have happened. The board just did what it was supposed to: question shaky budget proposals.
It’s frustrating because parts of the reorganization proposals were good –- many in the community said as much. The way it happened and the plan as a whole was wrong. Overall, it’s a start. A community engagement process will begin in August and key stakeholders should be involved in decision-making moving forward. It’s going to take time, but this important work deserves that.
Meanwhile, maybe OUSD needs to make hiring dual-credentialed teachers a priority for the next year. Maybe principals need to take a hard look at how their general ed and special ed programs interface. They should examine how professional development and collaboration time is organized and make changes now to benefit special education students more in the coming year.
Maybe the community needs to realize that, when united, it represents a powerful voice for advocacy and that voice is critical if not always welcome. That voice cannot go quiet now. The bonds that were created between teachers, families, program specialists and advocates are part of what will help to ensure planning will succeed –- and, ironically, fulfill part of another strategic plan goal. Everyone holds the responsibility to improve relationships and refocus on the most important shared goal: better outcomes for some of our most vulnerable and at-risk students.