Oakland special education teacher shuffle: Memo offers rationale, but no numbers

Here’s the text from the memo the Oakland school district administration circulated yesterday with its rationale for the recent last-minute special education resource teacher reassignments. Deputy Superintendent Maria Santos told the school board that nine of the 26 teachers were reinstated to their original schools. It sounded as though more might follow.

OEA President Trish Gorham said this to the administration, noting that actual student numbers won’t be known until school starts: “It’s OK to admit you were wrong. Accept it, own it, hit the pause button. … For the sake of over 500 of our most vulnerable students who are affected by this outrageous proposal, do the right thing.”

August 22, 2012

Memo on Program for Exceptional Children (PEC) Staff Reassignments

On Thursday, August 16, OUSD’s Program for Exceptional Children (PEC) mailed letters to all PEC staff informing them of their assignments for the upcoming 2012-13 school year. This is a conventional practice performed annually, however, the number of Resource Specialist reassignments was higher than years in the recent past.

Despite the increase in reassignments, OUSD will continue to provide students with all services as specified in their Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and meet or exceed all statewide standards. The staffing adjustments do not represent a change in the basic operation of the department, but the number of reassignments has grown significantly. The increase was necessary in order to:

• compensate for a sharp drop in the number of students requiring Resource Specialist services and a dramatic increase in Special Day Classes (SDC) which put a premium on aligning Resource Specialist programs to state and federal guidelines.
• group assignments in a way that reduces travel time for staff on average and increases the amount of time spent working directly with students.
• cope with the movement of students as a consequence of school closures and the withdrawal of some charter schools from OUSD’s Special Education Plan Area (SELPA).
• accommodate staff requests for transfers such as those related to the Teacher on Special Assignment (TSA) program at Acceleration High Schools or those requested by school sites.
All these factors complicated the situation and delayed the determination of how many resource specialists would be assigned and where. No Resource Specialists lost their jobs, although there were more reassignments than usual. We recognize that the timing of the notice was inconveniencing and we apologize for not being able to inform staff earlier, but extenuating circumstances—particularly the high level of movement of students among sites—prevented an earlier determination. Where feasible, assignment changes have been made based on new information and we will continue to make adjustments as necessary once schools open and enrollment numbers solidify.

The 2012-13 PEC budget is level with funding for the 2011-12 school year and the reassignment process was not driven by budget cuts or programmatic restructuring. However, given the drop in the number of students requiring Resource Specialist services and the large increase in the number of students in Special Day Classes, we adjusted staffing to meet student need.

Given the emphasis on numbers, I expected the memo to contain some projections. What does “dramatic” mean, and how have these numbers trended in recent years? I’ve requested the figures and will report back when they’ve come in.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Nontcair

    Deputy Superintendent Maria Santos told the school board

    .. thanks for the $230K!

  • Nontcair

    Why do so many of these OUSD memos for public release (disinformation) always sound like they’ve been first vetted (or even crafted) by legal and political officials?

    How many law firms does OUSD have on retainer?

    I’m surprised the memo didn’t quote CA Education Code sub-sub-chapter and section.

    PEC, IEP, SDC, SELPA, TSA. On and on and on.

    How many acronyms are required to teach Johnny to read? Does OUSD have a bureaucrat in charge of the acronyms database?

  • Baffled_SPED_teacher

    Were any RS’s actually changed from the resource model to SDC? If not, that explanation is a red herring.

  • Barbara

    1. I was wondering the same thing (#3). If they are not laying off any special ed teachers (they are not), not switching any Resource Specialists to teach special day classes (not that I have heard of), and there are not as many Resource students, than we should all be having smaller caseloads, not larger as the trend seems to be. None of the reasons given seem to actually match up to the actions taken.

    2. This massive transfer is anything but usual changes to accommodate student need. In the past, both schools and teachers were not only notified, but asked and given opportunities for input regarding moves, and this was done in June, and in much smaller numbers.

    3. The wording that is most concerning is “put a premium on aligning Resource Specialist programs to state and federal guidelines”, which indicates that somehow destabilizing one third of schools’ Resource Programs is somehow going to align us to federal guidelines and improve services. If anything, it is likely to lead to lost time with students and even more students needing more restrictive environments the following year.

    We are our own worst enemy here.

  • anon

    Regarding the verbage of this memo and the one that was sent last year beginning with the good news of “Now special ed will be teaching to the common core standards”:

    I actually think these memos sound like they were written by Ministry of Truth in the book “1984” ala doublespeak.

  • Katy Murphy

    Some data reported by OUSD today, in response to my query. I don’t know how staffing numbers have changed over time in each specialization, but I’ll find out.

    Number of SDCs (special day classes) over time:

    2010-11 270 classes
    2011-12 275 classes
    2012-13 285 classes

    Number of resource students over time:

    2010-11 2,088
    2011-12 2,158 (The district’s spokesman initially reported that as he was working with the district’s data system, he was uncertain which of two figures — 2,061 or 2,158 — was accurate. He was later told by another staff member to go with 2,158. All of these numbers are collected as part of the student count at the end of June, he said.)
    2012-13 2,077

  • Community Advisory Committee for Special Education

    Response to the Last Minute Re-Assignment by OUSD of Special Education Teachers

    The Community Advisory Committee for Special Education (CAC) August 23, 2012

    At the close of the 2011-2012 school year, the Special Education community that the CAC represents received word of a far-reaching Special Education re-structuring plan that included significant class-size and caseload increases that would reduce the support for Children with Special Needs, among other actions.

    After massive community outcry, the School Board voted to reverse the plans proposed for Special Education. The Board directed Superintendent Smith and Deputy Superintendent Santos to immediately initiate an inclusive stakeholder engagement process that would ensure a studied and comprehensive plan for improving the Special Education program and the support that students receive. The day after the School Board vote, members of the CAC met with Deputy Superintendent María Santos. At that meeting, Ms. Santos assured us that a plan to increase caseloads and class sizes no longer existed and that the community engagement process about Special Education with all stakeholders would begin in August. While we have stood ready to partner in this process, we have not received any communication to date from Ms. Santos about an initial meeting or about how that process will be supported and undertaken.

    Despite this mandate and that promise, OUSD leadership moved to re-assign at least 1/3 of Resource Specialists to different and additional sites. We are also beginning to receive reports of large increases in the number of students in Special Day classrooms. A number of Resource Specialists are testifying publicly that, as a result the re-assignments, they are starting the school year with 10 students above the maximum allowed by law. This is guaranteed to harm students.

    We reject the notion that these changes are routine business at the beginning of the school year. They are not. The resounding response from our community is that this large a number of re-assignments is without precedent. This action will undermine the work and morale of many teachers and the progress of a very large number of children with Special Needs. It will also reverberate negatively throughout many school communities and will destabilize an already fragile Special Education program.

    Given the lack of information from OUSD leadership and the already reported impacts, there is no indication that this action was based on actual numbers or on the examination of students’ Individualized Education Plans. The rush to engage in this re-assignment without clear data demonstrates a troubling insensitivity to the feelings and experiences that our community shared a mere 2 months ago. It also casts doubt on the claim that this process is driven by student need.

    The actions of OUSD administration continue to undermine the trust needed to engage in meaningful collaboration for reform. OUSD has already received urgent response and push-back to this last-minute re-assignment of Special Education staff from all segments of the community, including teachers, principals, families, union leadership, and other partners.

    We call on OUSD leadership to reverse these last minute re-assignment of Resource Specialists. It must also hire the number of Special Education teachers and Resource Specialists needed to avoid large class sizes and caseloads. This was the clear intention of the School Board in its June 27 vote.

    We, the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education, remain deeply concerned about a Special Education program that is not meeting the needs of our students. We await the robust leadership that will implement the stakeholder engagement process that our community was promised. Any re-organization or reform of Special Education must be the product of a studied and inclusive process with all those who daily support the education of Students with Special Needs.

  • Special Ed Parent

    Thank you Noel Gallo for your principled leadership on behalf of this vulnerable population of children. You have my vote for City Council and I will work to make sure that everyone I know votes for you as well.

    I thank you in the name of my little boy.

  • A coding error

    Gallo? Principles? In the same sentence?
    He must be most pleased that in the same paragraph it says “vote for you”.
    Few teachers and few principals (if any) have anything but a sarcastic smile for his most eloquent, changing opinions, or his visits to schools for the picture, or the mess he made in Lazear (being the first one to announce selling the land to a developer, and then becoming the staunch advocate of the community).
    For one thing, his BS sounds beautiful. And that’s about it.

  • Special Ed Parent

    I have never put my voice out there in the conversation about electoral politics. Yet, the dismal conditions that children with Special Needs face and the continuing threat to the entire structure of Special Education compel me to make this statement. Too many in leadership remain silent and even dismiss this population of children who live in all communities.

    Gallo’s voice and votes in support of this population of students have been consistent. I am grateful for that and make no other claims about him.

    I also thank the other Directors who joined him in voice and vote last June.

  • Baffled_SPED_teacher

    So, basically, if the one individual telling the spokesperson to go with the higher number is wrong, we actually have a net increase in resource students. Even if it’s not, we have a decline that, even if acted on with an eye to state maximums, would disrupt 3 or fewer individuals (I’ll be charitable and imagine ripple effects that would possibly impact, say, 6 more.) We still don’t have district confirmation that ANY of the RS’s were actually redesignated SDC.

    And the reality on the ground is still that we have upwards of 20 credentialed teachers shuffled around like a deck of cards instead of human beings on the week before school starts–plus, again we need to talk about this, many many more paraprofessionals who’ve been capriciously reassigned on the same insane timeline.

    I do not buy this as the full rationale.

    DO BETTER. Explain this fully, or make some changes.

  • Katy Murphy

    I’m also told that the 2,077 figure for the current year does not include unsigned IEPs. I don’t know how many that is, or whether that represents an apples-to-apples comparison to previous years.

  • Jim Mordecai

    A Coding Error:

    Your #8 posting is in my mind in violation of the principle that the high road in a debate is to attack the subject and not the person.

    First you assert that Noel Gallo does not have principles. You conflate changing opinions with having principles. It is respectable principle to change when you have new information or on reflection feel you have taken the wrong position.

    I disagree with Noel Gallo usually because he carries within himself Chamber of Commerce mentality. But, I try to separate ideology and the person committed to the American dream. And, he has always treated me with respect and I give him the same. In brief, his chief virtue in my mind is he is a gentleman. And, I just have not met teachers that would share your opinion that Mr. Gallo is without principal.

    Actually, some of the teachers I know have defended Mr. Gallo as standing up for them when other school board members haven’t. And, that is a principled behavior they greatly admire. Many also admire the years of dedicate service working as a school board member.

    Noel Gallo standing alone on an issue is often admired. For example, Noel Gallo was the only Board Member at Wednesday’s night meeting to question $350,000 Administration’s Executive On-loan program and then to vote against approving it. He saved $10,000 from being spent on training of the Oakland School Board in parliamentary procedures by questioning how the Board could justify $10,000 when it already pays $30,000 to the California School Board in dues and that dues money covers such things as the Board being trained in parliamentary procedures.

    I believe you are wrong on the principle thing when it comes to Noel Gallo. But, you’re entitled to your opinion, as are the voters of Oakland.

  • Nontcair

    Although I’m opposed to public education involvement in special ed on principle, I don’t understand the opposition some teachers/staff has expressd here to being shuffled around the district.

    Our troops in combat theatres (far from home) get shifted around (often into even more life threatening situations) with NO notice. Reserve battalions here at home have to be ready to pack up, leave their families and livelihoods, and travel half way around the world with about 24 hours notice.

    Many NFL players have to compete for a spot on the team (often for a one-year contract) up until a short time before the first game of the season.

    Every player on the field is expected to be able to shift plays on-the-fly — often simply based on the team captain’s gut feel. Those who doesn’t have to come set are expected to be able to shift positions at the last moment. All those guys are members of the NFL Players Union.

    Why are OUSD union members so opposed to being moved around the chess board a week before school starts? Or does that “management” prerogative violate some sort of collective bargaining agreement?

  • Peach

    Three questions-

    1. Are these changes the result of recommendations of the outside consultant brought in last academic year?

    2. Are most of the reassigned RSs fully credentialed, experienced, tenured educators?

    3.Who are the top administrators in Programs for Exceptional Children for 2012-13?

    One comment – educators, credentialed and paraprofessionals, do not fight against competitors/enemies with deadly or near deadly force. Theirs is a profession that builds the intellect and character of future productive citizens. Construction always takes much more thought, preparation, and relationship building than pummeling and destruction.

  • Jim Mordecai


    Under collective bargaining the Smith, or any administration in California, is suppose to discuss changes in membership working conditions before implementing.

    There are some superintendents that if they planned a massive change at the beginning of school that would impact a whole mess of teachers and institutional assistants would have met and discussed that change with the impacted unions. And, some superintendents would consider that good management, as would I.

    I can’t imagine the players association of the NFL being passive if a work rule impacting one-third of the league was enacted by the football owners the last week of pre-season and teams all over the league were having players switched. Los Vegas would be really upset in trying to make the betting line after that destablizing bad idea.

    The bottom line is that moving the personnel around before you even have a count of students enrolled the new school year is not good administration. Maybe, that is the reason that teachers not impacted are upset and why teachers and parents impacted are of course upset.

    Jim Mordecai

  • J.R.

    I only wish people had been this interested in how students educational progress had been “impacted” in the previous 3-4-5 decades, but I guess as long as the checks were rolling in that it wasn’t all that important. Trying to fix a mess by making a bigger mess won’t do any good, the system must be cleaned out and re-worked for the primary benefit of the children. If you don’t want to teach under those conditions then don’t. Parents and teachers are not upset for the same reasons, and it all revolves around what is more important to whom.

  • Baffled_SPED_teacher

    With respect, J.R,., as a longtime Oakland educator, it is exactly my deep sense of “interest” and “upset” regarding the educational progress of Oakland’s children which motivates me to protest decisions made by my district which ultimately harm them.

    You do not see the work done by myself and my colleagues, every day, in service of student progress. You aren’t privy to those actions, those struggles.

    This action, however, plays out on a public stage–and I challenge your assertion that any outrage about the one negates action on the other. It is precisely because teachers and staff (including the para at my site who had been there for upwards of 20 years before she received her letter last week) do have an “interest” in the children they serve that they must be treated with more thought then they were given here.

  • J.R.

    Oh, I see quite a bit(sometimes more than I care to).Like I have stated from the beginning most teachers are just fine a few are incredible, and some are in the wrong profession, it’s just as simple as that. To be frank, what bothers many is, that they do not want to be bothered(moved,laid off, work harder,whatever). Just so you know, I probably see many if not most of your colleagues in action(and probably more objectively)than you do(because after all, you are busy with your own class). Until we deal with this part of lifes reality this district will never improve(it is just one factor of many, but a very important one that should not be dismissed). Of course a large part of the problem is homelife of the child, but that is a problem created by an overly permissive system that actually encourages the irresponsible(generations of them)to procreate while being supported by society(welfare,section 8,free reduced lunch, and on and on). There is a point at which you do not have enough tax-payers to support the whole mess.We have reached that point.

  • J.R.

    One more thing,(off tangent a little I know), but why are teachers in general(not necessarily in this district)upset when the district moves people around, and yet not upset with seniority induced bumping that many times causes a ripple effect of moving teachers? That harms communities and relationships as well,no?

  • Jim Mordecai


    Under the OEA Contract there is not bumping. However, some of the other unions have negotiated bumping in their contracts.

    Jim Mordecai

  • anon

    point of clarification: none of the unions with bumping rights are teacher unions in OUSD.

  • A coding error

    @ Jim Mordecai #13
    As we are free to choose friendships and affections, my deep respect for you and your role in keeping debate active. I wish there were more people with your perseverance.
    Now, in order not to take the focus from SPED, I will briefly illustrate my point without twist, technicality or debate formalism. Check this out (probably, reread it):

    Visiting a mostly undocumented neighborhood, a few bucks. Participating (and smiling) when Whitman tells them that she absolutely supports cutting higher ed for them, priceless.
    Seeing some parents (probably you were there, as I was)complain to the board for this obnoxious visit, painful. Gallo being absent that very day, shameless.
    What a way to represent District 5. What principles.
    Just like Tony, on a business trip the day the board discussed the coding error.
    10,000 saved, cool (but cosmetic). 350,000, cooler (4 teachers approx.). asking, just asking about 8 million… you tell me 😉
    Our expectations for politicians are too low, and you have seen a lot through the years. Let’s not get into Stockholm syndrome mode, or amnesia.
    I will not give my vote for a handshake, a charming smile or a farcical, stand-alone dissenting vote every once in a while.

    Examples galore, but redundant now. After all, you were most likely there.

  • Nontcair

    #16 wrote Under collective bargaining the Smith, or any administration in California, is suppose to discuss changes in membership working conditions before implementing.

    I’m not in the habit of defending public unions, but if what you say is true, then Smith had better start discussing or else .. what?

    Does the union have the option to confront this grievance head-on via:

    Binding arbitration?

  • Stacey Smith

    I can’t imagine why OUSD administration would decide to make such dramatic changes at the last minute, without discussing them ahead of time with principals and staff (or apparently even notifying them after the fact), with no solid enrollment figures or apparent review of actual student IEPs, and at such destabilizing cost to school communities when “community” is the watchword of the district these days. The unprecedented protest from principals, teachers and families about how disruptive these changes are and will be to school communities and student learning conditions makes me think they didn’t review these words:

    “The Programs for Exceptional Children will develop and implement systems that will foster positive relationships and communications between parents, community and agencies in an effort to decrease the number of litigious and non-compliant cases.” – OUSD Strategic Plan, Focus 2C.6

    I heard the Board publicly share that they have spent millions of dollars resolving litigation and the plan calls for a reduction in litigation and non-compliance. Yet OUSD is intentionally starting the year out of compliance and setting the conditions for complaints. A number of resource specialists (RS) are starting the year with well over the allowable caseloads documented in this blog and at the board meeting. That means less time to support students. And I keep hearing about staff assignments based on enrollment but nothing about student need. All students’ needs are not created equal. To assume a set number of RS hours per student is to treat students like widgets – and thumb your nose at the whole idea behind special education which is to provide individualized, specialized support to ensure the student can access the same education as their general education peers.

    Finally, these changes are no excuse for the fact that a child’s teachers must be familiar with the contents of the IEP from day one. With the scrambling that’s happening now, and the changes and take-backs of decisions, OUSD increases the probability that resource specialists and general education teachers will not have the time to be familiar with the contents of the student IEP and will not be prepared to meet student need. It jeopardizes the chance for students to start out on the right foot and sets the conditions for problems and more complaints.

    Compliance complaints don’t happen because people are not getting along with each other – they happen because OUSD continually creates conditions that make it impossible for even the best-intentioned staff to meet the needs of their students and improve educational outcomes. And it continues to cost the district dearly. The sooner OUSD leadership accepts this reality and stops blaming complaints on a lack of “positive relationships” but instead addresses the underlying cause, the better off we all will be.

  • Jim Mordecai

    Stacey Smith:

    Superintendent Dr.Anthonthy Smith has (to use a technical term) “screwed up” again!

    Can Oakland afford more of the same or will it bid good-bye to Superintendent Smith?

    If the buck stops at the Smith Amdinistration’s superintendency, then he will demonstrate leadership and resign.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Trish Gorham

    I thank all of you for continuing to challenge the ill advised action. Keep it up. OUSD is scrambling to back peddle the effects while still maintaining it was a wise and thoughtful process. Below is my speech to OUSD School Board on 8.22.12.

    30% of the Resource Specialist Teachers have had their assignments drastically and needlessly changed.

    I don’t even entirely fault the technician who created this plan. She was given a structural puzzle to solve: maximize student caseloads and reduce travel time between assigned sites.

    So, the pieces of the puzzle fell into place, like a Tetras game, and ONLY THEN were the humans considered. And if they had to be massively moved in order to justify the puzzle, so be it.

    THIS is the essence of the rot at the soul of this district. As was demonstrated previously by the closure of 5 schools.

    And I am NOT saying there aren’t structural changes that need to take place that WILL cause discomfort and pain.

    But, until you put people ahead of process, people ahead of structure, people ahead of grand visions, we will never move forward in any meaningful way.

    And what if the special ed student projections for the sites are wrong? With over a thousand students redistributed through school closures, those figures may prove to be wildly off. So the teachers move again?

    Troy Flint, the District’s official spin-doctor, said there were “major shortcomings in the way this was handled.”

    It’s okay. We all make mistakes.

    Accept it. Own it.
    Hit the pause button and rethink it.
    Don’t, once again, double down on a flawed process.

    Let teachers return to their original sites.
    Take a real assessment of site caseloads based on real enrolment.
    And THEN consolidate, as needed, putting the HUMAN, not structural, need first.

    For the sake of over 500 of our most vulnerable students and their families who are affected by this proposed outrage, DO THE RIGHT THING.

  • Nontcair

    Taxpayers are fed up with the way that public education dollars end up being wasted on items which have nothing to do with teaching Johnny how to read. All we can do is sit back in helpless astonishment as the special interests fight over every public education dollar.

    If Smith does not back down about this the education association might just escalate the matter into a legal action which would cost *both* sides a lot of money.

    It makes little difference to us which side prevails, however we insist that the money OUSD uses to fight this come out of its *existing* budget.

    If that means bumping up the student:teacher ratio or forgoing purchase of new textbooks, so be it.

  • J.R.
  • J.R.

    We’re cutting into bone now!!!!

  • anon

    I heard there was going to be a press conference today (Tuesday) on the steps of the admin building on 2nd ave to discuss these last minute transfers.