Tuesday, March 20 , 2018, 3:39 am | Fair 51º


Schools Superintendent Pulls Request for Contract Extension

Brian Sarvis, who drew fire amid complaints about the district's special-ed department, says he wasn't the one to put his request on last week's school board agenda.

Nearly a week after being criticized for a request to extend his contract, Santa Barbara School District Superintendent Brian Sarvis on Monday said he will withdraw that request until the end of the school year.

Last week, the request to extend his three-year contract by one year was discussed but not voted on by the school board, and came during a time of unrest over the district’s troubled special-education department, whose leader recently resigned amid parent criticism.

On Monday, Sarvis, who is about six months into his three-year contract and whose annual salary is about $204,000, said he didn’t ask for the request to be put on last Tuesday’s agenda, saying it was put there by outgoing school board president Laura Malakoff.

However, Sarvis said it is common for superintendents to seek contracts that are three years out.

“Often, superintendents who only have two years on their contract will go looking,” he said. “But I’m still committed to staying here in the community.”

Malakoff could not be reached for comment Monday. On Tuesday, she and two-term board member Nancy Harter will participate in their final meeting, a closed-session discussion, during which the board will evaluate Sarvis’ performance.

At the last meeting, Sarvis took heat from one of the special-education parents, who said it’s too early for the board to determine whether to extend his contract, as well as from a board member, who walked out of the meeting in protest.

Also on Monday, Sarvis issued a news release spelling out his plans to rebuild the special-education department, whose leader, Anissa McNeil, quit Nov. 21, just six months into the job, making her the seventh leader to leave the department in about as many years.

Before her departure, a group of special-education parents had shown up to several consecutive board meetings to express their dissatisfaction, complaining that their children — many of whom have autism — often were not paired with properly trained aides, and that the district was breaking the law in its failure to provide substitutes on the days the aides were absent.

Parents also said the district wasn’t honoring the legally binding education plans for their children. For instance, one woman said last week that her child has been given only three of the 28 speech-therapy sessions to which he has been entitled. Another said her child with autism once had a seizure in a classroom where the aide was absent, forcing the teacher to stop the class.

Sarvis’ plan calls for an independent analysis of the special-education department by an outside agency. The demand seems to address a concern raised last week by school board member Bob Noel, a sometimes confrontational champion of governmental transparency who, after butting heads with his four board colleagues last week, stormed out of the meeting. Noel was upset that the board had decided to table the request to extend Sarvis’ contract without discussion. That same night, he also pointedly called for the review to be “done independently of the superintendent, because indeed he may be part of the problem.”

Sarvis’ plan also includes gathering significant amounts of input from special-education staff members and parents. He said he will take suggestions from a small group of parents and teachers before hiring an interim director — a post he wants filled before winter break. He wants the permanent position filled by spring.

Sarvis added that top district administrators will meet with parents through December and beyond.

His plan also calls for an immediate solution to the glaring omission of a district policy on substitutes for aides.

As for the independent review, Sarvis said that although it could take the agency until next school year to finish making all of its recommendations, he wants some of them earlier. Specifically, he wants the ones associated with leadership to be completed by March, so he can hire a permanent replacement for McNeil before the end of the school year.

He said the recommendations could address whether the district needs to raise the salary range for the special-education director to attract a bigger pool of qualified applicants. Sarvis said that while he isn’t pre-judging the results, an earlier analysis completed by the district has shown that the higher end of its salary range for the special-education director — about $120,000 — is below that of comparable districts.

He said the district most likely will ask several consultants and agencies around the state to put together proposals, and that the board will decide which group receives the contract.

On Monday, Jennifer Griffin, co-chairwoman of a local group called Parents of Special Education, said it’s too early to tell whether Sarvis’ plan is satisfactory.

“The attitude (among some parents and teachers) is ‘here we go again,’” she said, adding that she has been in Santa Barbara for only two years. “So what’s different now? I don’t know.

“These parents are just asking for what is by law their right: putting a kid in a class with a trained aide. They are not asking for any special treatment.”

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