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Special-Ed Advocates Speak Out at School Board Meeting

Parents and committee members express concerns about a lack of discussion of the program

A flurry of public comments, presentations and discussions of more than a dozen agenda items made Tuesday’s Santa Barbara School District Board of Education meeting run an hour over, with the discussion — or lack thereof — about special education dominating much of the time.

Parents and members of the Special Education Advisory Council expressed concern that none of the agenda items related to the critical FCMAT (Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team) report. The report won’t be discussed until the Aug. 11 board meeting — 13 days before the 2009-2010 school year starts.

Board members also expressed concerns, and requested that future meetings include a more thorough discussion of the report, an analysis of how stimulus funds will be used within the special-ed department, and recognition of the SEAC and its mission.

Parent Leslie Sanderson suggested that the district consider hiring an ombudsman as a mediator for district administrators, staff and parents.

A decision on whether interim special-ed director Alan Hilton will continue in that capacity was pulled from the agenda and will be discussed, along with the approval of other special-education staff, during a meeting at 4 p.m. Friday.

As of now, the top administrative positions for special education are vacant. Director Anissa McNeil resigned in November 2008, and recent hires Jacob Jensen and Barbara Semel Parkhurst both accepted the jobs and then resigned and withdrew, respectively, from the positions within a few days of each other.

The district has been advertising for an executive director and director positions, and program specialists.

Wording in the Bridge Program parent letter — which was approved nearly unamended — was a matter of concern since many of the details were not included, such as the voluntary nature and nine-week evaluations, after which students can opt out of the program.

The program is intended mainly for ninth-graders “who we feel can be academically successful, but have not yet achieved their potential,” according to the parent letter. Students would take longer periods of English and math in addition to their regular high school classes, but should make the transition out of the program within a year, Associate Superintendent Robin Sawaske said.

Federal and state budget issues have hit local wallets hard, and one of the district’s programs, the California School Age Families Education (CalSAFE) Program, is pursing grant money because spending cuts have decreased the number of families and children it can help. It expects to serve nine infants and toddlers this year, down from 30 to 50, coordinator Jennie Martinez said. The program serves high school student parents, and the San Marcos High School location has been tentatively shut down because of funding issues.

Meanwhile, the construction contract for portable classroom relocation at Washington School was rescinded from Lack Construction after discussion from both sides. David Lack said delays through his bank resulted in more expensive, difficult bonds and he requested more time, but David Hetyonk, director of facilities and operations, recommended that the board direct staff to rebid the project.

Other issues on the agenda included name changes to one of the districts — now the Santa Barbara Secondary School District — and an additional alternative high school name: Alta Vista Alternative High School.

The next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Aug. 11 at the Santa Barbara School Districts Administration Office, 720 Santa Barbara St.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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