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Santa Barbara School Board Candidates Talk Special Education at Forum

Special Education Advisory Committee hosts a question-and-answer session with Monique Limón, Dean Nevins, Loren Mason and Kate Parker

Candidates for the Santa Barbara School District Board of Education focused on special education at a forum Tuesday night.

The four candidates vying for two spots include incumbent Kate Parker, Goleta Union School District board member Dean Nevins, UCSB interdisciplinary studies teacher Monique Limón and contractor/real estate agent Loren Mason.

The forum was hosted by the Special Education Advisory Committee and moderated by president Catherina Abarca, a special education parent. All of the candidates called for more accountability, outreach to families and focusing on getting — and keeping — qualified teachers.

About two dozen parents and staff attended and asked the candidates how they would better special education and follow through on their promises.

Mason continually referenced the FCMAT report, which articulates problems such as communication within the special education department, lack of leadership and accountability. The report states that some students can’t get the services they need unless an attorney or advocate gets involved, he said.

Limón said the core issue rests with communication and trust, and what happens to those who don’t have advocates.

Parker, who has served on the board for the past four years, said the report was the best thing to happen to the district in the past decade, since it plainly stated issues that had been festering for years.

Nevins’ experience at GUSD includes working on a special-education program and time spent as a “difficult parent” who often went to board meetings and asked questions — as many of the special-education parents identify themselves.

The big issue of funding came up Tuesday night as well, as the Board of Education has had to help make millions of dollars of cuts for the past few years. The role of the board is to make policy decisions and then hold staff — including the superintendent — accountable, the candidates said.

Improving outreach to parents and special-education programs would help avoid lawsuits, which is a major cost for the district. Nevins said that some cuts have an impact that is disproportionate to the money they save, such as school psychologists who serve multiple classrooms.

There were several back-and-forth moments among the candidates, as Nevins and Mason rebutted each other over accepting donations and endorsements from the Santa Barbara Teachers Association. Nevins has been endorsed and received campaign donations from the SBTA, and said any individual with personal integrity can decide that the money doesn’t affect decision-making. Mason went the opposite route, commending board member Bob Noel, who is not running for re-election, for voting against the group as often as he does.

Parker responded to Mason’s criticisms of the board’s recent action to spend federal job bill funds on increasing administrator hours. She said it’s difficult to make any staffing changes after a year has begun and that the money can be used to help mitigate future cuts. Nevins noted that the one-time money means any added programs or staff most likely would have to be cut after a year.

On the subject of bullying, none of the candidates supports restraint and seclusion practices, but they said they do support mandatory training for faculty and staff on the issue of dealing with students who are physically violent or emotionally distressed.

In closing, the candidates stressed related experience and knowledge of the school system. All of them have family members in the school district, and Mason, Nevins and Parker have children in district schools.

Noozhawk recently talked to each of the candidates to discuss their campaigns and goals, and their Noozhawk candidate questionnaires are published below.

» Click here for Monique Limón’s Noozhawk Q&A.

» Click here for Loren Mason’s Noozhawk Q&A.

» Click here for Dean Nevins’ Noozhawk Q&A.

» Click here for Kate Parker’s Noozhawk Q&A.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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