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Mt. Diablo special ed assistants speak out

By Theresa Harrington
Sunday, June 26th, 2011 at 2:14 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington.

Now that Mt. Diablo school board President Gary Eberhart is no longer webcasting meetings, I may start trying to videotape excerpts to post in my blog.

On June 14, I videotaped those who spoke about the special education assistant cuts. Unfortunately, due to where I was sitting, you can only see the backs of the people speaking.

Before the board took up the item as part of budget cuts, CSEA rep Annie Nolen addressed the board. She gave me a copy of her comments, which I’ve excerpted below:

ANNIE NOLEN: Said the union didn’t find out until June 7 that between 62 and 67 assistants would be affected by the reduced hours, since 41 positions had originally been listed in the possible budget cut list.

She objected to the agenda item calling Special Education Assistants “Resource Assistants,” saying no such designation exists. Nolen pointed out that assistants already had their hours reduced from six hours to five hours last year and many went through the “bumping” process.

Nolen asked the board to take two weeks to examine the proposed cuts to determine whether they were really needed.

“In our unit, working with school children is a very hands-on job,” Nolen said. “We probably have the most contact with students than any other job in the district because we work directly with them in a classroom setting on a daily basis. With some of our special needs children and at-risk children, these members are sometimes like a family member to them.”

She said the loss of benefits would be devastating to members, many of whom provide benefits for out-of-work spouses or are the sole providers for their children.

“I think that the special needs of the children of MDUSD will suffer greatly with these extreme cuts and reductions,” she added.

When the board discussed budget cuts, nine people spoke against the cuts.

A special education mother says if it weren’t for special education assistants, her daughter wouldn’t have graduated from high school. She worries some students may drop out if the cuts are made:

Special education assistant Kim Montano said the district would be hurting those it is supposed to be helping by making the cuts. “Right now,” she said, “the very ones who need it the most are the ones you’re stabbing in the back.”

College Park HS special education assistant Denise Ingham reads a letter from Olympic HS special education assistant Jackie Griffith, which predicts many students may not graduate if the assistants are cut. “We love our students,” Ingham reads. “We love our jobs. Please honor our hard work.”

Mari Nist, a special education assistant at Pine Hollow Middle School, said her campus was out of compliance last year, when some eighth-grade students went without any coverage in their history classes. She predicted future lawsuits could nullify the savings the district may get from the special education assistant cuts:

Mike Langley, president of the Mt. Diablo Education Association teachers’ union, says teachers have expressed concerns about the cuts that were made last year. He also worries that high-quality assistants may leave because they won’t be able to afford to only work three hours a day with no benefits. He asks the board to look elsewhere instead of making cuts in the classroom:

Woodside Elementary resource specialist teacher Joan Martin says special education assistants are essential members of the education team. She asks how the district will keep qualified assistants, if it reduces hours and eliminates benefits.

Ellie McQuade, a special education teacher at Highlands Elementary, says cuts made last year have already made it more difficult for her to provide a high-quality education to her students. If hours are cut to three, she asks: “How am I going to provide the education that these kids need?”

A special education mom asks that special education assistants and nurses not be retained exclusively based on seniority, since experience with individual students requires consistency — especially for medically fragile children:

Oak Grove MS secretary Deb Heinzmann asks the board if it would be “less cruel” to cut whole positions, so that those special education assistants remaining after layoffs could work longer hours and retain their benefits:

Pittsburg resident Willie Mims asks the board to spare the jobs of special education assistants, imploring them to consider the humanity of their decision:

In this clip, Superintendent Steven Lawrence and CFO Bryan Richards explain to the board that it could achieve a “positive” certification on its budget without cutting the special education assistants, as long as employees agree to seven furlough days in the next two years:

Do you think the board should have waited two weeks — until June 28 — as suggested by Nolen, to consider other options?

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  • Anon

    Yes they should have waited. This is the wrong way to balance the budget. While I feel for the people who are losing their jobs and benefits I feel real bad for the students.

  • g

    Thank you for the tapes Theresa. At least the audio is understandable! View from the back is perfectly OK too. Paul’s system was painful to try to listen to, and not preserved for us to go back online for reference.

  • sea

    Today was the meeting at the district office for the assistants that had hours cut or their job eliminated…What can you tell us about what happened there?
    I think they should have waited, like Annie Nolan suggested….

  • http://cocotimes Elmira Peabody

    The pay and the pensions these upper level administrators receive is shameful. SEA’s are being treated like bedraggled little Dickens characters,begging for another crumb of bread, to Lawrence’s Scrooge of Carlotta Drive. The district needs to be investigated and all their shenanigans probed.

  • Theresa Harrington

    According to the Governor’s signing message with AB 114, districts are prohibited from assuming mid-year cuts in their budgets: http://1.usa.gov/n7Dwpd.
    Instead, districts are encouraged to shorten the school year by seven days, if state revenues fail to come through.
    This could mean the MDUSD board must reinstate the special education cuts it made, because they were based on a possible cut of $330/ADA.

  • Theresa Harrington

    ACSA has named Mildred Browne, MDUSD’s assistant superintendent for special education, its 2011 Special Education Administrator of the Year: http://www.acsa.org/MainMenuCategories/Membership/Special-Ed.aspx