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Tuesday, December 18 , 2018, 12:23 pm | Partly Cloudy 62º


Santa Barbara District Considers Taking Control of Special Education Services

The Santa Barbara Unified School District is proposing to take control of some special education classes the Santa Barbara County Education Office has been operating for its students for more than three decades.

As part of a three-year implementation plan that could begin in July 2016, the district would take over special education preschool for mild- to moderate-needs students and for students receiving speech-only and mild-moderate level of services.

The district Board of Education discussed the possible change with staff at Tuesday night’s meeting, with an official vote planned in coming weeks.

Special education staff confirmed the district has the space — two empty classrooms, in fact — and the capacity to make the change, not to mention the benefit for students who have to be transferred to and from different special education sites.

“These are exciting times,” said Helen Rodriguez, assistant superintendent of special education.

“There was a time the district was unable to serve all of our students with disabilities," Rodriguez added. "We are in a position where we have the facilities, the staff support. If the district operated it, that would minimize the number of transitions. It’s time for us to bring our children home.”

If the change is approved, the district expects to serve 123 special education preschoolers at a cost of about $1.4 million.

The district also hopes to become the regional operator for junior high and high school students with Significant Cognitive Disability (SCD) instead of the county, which would retain those services at the elementary and transition levels.

The estimated fiscal impact to serve 20 SCD students is $551,264, according to staff.

The County Education Office provides district special education students with sessions per their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), with 72 preschool students receiving speech-only services, 25 with mild-moderate needs and 15 with moderate-severe needs.  

In June, district staff notified the County Education Office and Santa Barbara Special Education Local Planning Area of its request to become the preschool provider for students turning 3 years old beginning July 1, 2016, and any new referrals — so current students would transition out before the district assumes total control in July 2018.

“We have been pleased to serve these students and families for over 30 years, and are very supportive of the district’s desire to serve students who reside in their district,” David Lawrence, the County Education Office’s director of communications, said Wednesday.

The county would continue as the preschool service provider to students enrolled in classes for students with moderate-severe needs.  

Students with speech-only services would be at Franklin, Cleveland, McKinley, Harding and Adams elementary schools, and mild-moderate needs would be served in an inclusion program in the state preschools at Franklin and Cleveland elementary schools.

“How many new students will be coming onto those two campuses?” board member Kate Parker asked.

Board member Monique Limón was also worried about capacity, and whether the district had proper staffing to make the change.

“At some point, I have to trust staff that they have capacity,” Superintendent Dave Cash said, noting the plan was three years in the making because he shared the same concern.

If approved, the school district plans to hire a board-certified behavior analyst and a mental-health intern to support preschool students.

The district would also offer preschool positions to displaced county staff, since staff wants to minimize the amount of change for students.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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