Pixel Tracker

Saturday, January 19 , 2019, 1:49 am | Fair 47º


Santa Barbara School Trustees Restructure Special-Ed Department

Amid fiscal crisis and a survey depicting low morale, board votes to create three new leadership positions.

About three and a half months after the resignation of the embattled special education director, the Santa Barbara school board Tuesday night took a significant step toward restructuring the troubled department, creating three new leadership positions to be filled this spring.

Meanwhile, a new survey taken by special-education teachers indicates morale is in the basement, according to the Sacramento-based consulting group Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team. FCMAT was hired by the district to create a comprehensive report on the special-education department, which has seen seven leaders in eight years.

About 80 percent of the teachers in the department say morale is very low, JoAnn Murphy, an independent contractor working for FCMAT, told the board Tuesday. Seventy-two percent say they do not feel valued by the district; 70 percent say they don’t feel valued by the community, she said.

“There is a community perception of distrust with the district’s special-education administration,” she said.

The trouble burst into view in mid-October when parents of children with special needs began attending board meetings to complain about a shortage of trained instructional aides, a failure to follow through on legally mandated education plans created for their children by educators and, above all, a lack of responsiveness from the district about their concerns.

The conflict came to a head Nov. 21, with the resignation of special-ed director Anissa McNeil.

Tuesday’s action means the district will create a position for an executive director for the department, earning between $110,000 and $123,000. Beneath that position will be two directors, one for each of the elementary and secondary districts. The board voted 5-0 for the creation of the executive director’s post, but the vote was 4-1 for the subordinate positions, with trustee Bob Noel dissenting.

As a result of Tuesday’s action, the district will add about $80,000 to its annual cost for special education.

The move comes at a time when the district is expected to lay off dozens of teachers as a result of the state budget crisis.

Parents of special education students who attended Tuesday’s meeting were generally unhappy with the overall direction in which the district seems headed.

Parent Cory Bream said the preliminary FCMAT study seems to indicate that changes need to be made at the top.

“You ultimately have the same people in charge of special education,” she said, referring to how district Superintendent Brian Sarvis and Associate Superintendent Robin Sawaske are still accountable for the department. “If you have the same ideas in charge, nothing changes.”

Bream did add, however, that the move to create the three new positions was a “positive step.”

In the study — which is yet to be completed — FCMAT also interviewed five of the seven former special-education leaders who have left the district in the past eight years, Murphy said.

Among their stated reasons for leaving were:

» A personal life choice

» Santa Barbara’s high cost of living

» The department was understaffed

» The position did not carry the authority to make final decisions

» A lot of time was spent on due process and complaint resolution

Write to [email protected]

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.