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Santa Barbara School Board Receives Special-Ed Update

Report finds programs' English Learner and Latino students are over-identified

English Learner and Latino students are often over-identified in the special-education programs of the Santa Barbara Unified School District, administrators said at Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting.

Helen Rodriguez, assistant superintendent of special education, and her staff gave a Strategic Plan update to the board, including the findings in the disproportionate report.

Almost 60 percent of the total district’s students identify as Latino or Hispanic, but more than 80 percent of students identified with specific learning disability and 75 percent of students with a speech language impairment are Latino or Hispanic, Director John Schettler said.

He said the numbers are skewed and it’s not surprising data, given that the problem is statewide. It’s been a problem in the district for a long time, and the special-education staff are working to retrain employees, he added.

Oftentimes, language acquisition issues are identified as special-education issues, Schettler said.

The state assigned a consultant to the district last year because of this, and a lot of professional development training is dedicated to making changes in this area, Superintendent Dave Cash said.

Special-education department leaders are working on the many deficiencies cited in the damning FCMAT report that recommended a complete overhaul.

Efforts are focused on improving all forms of communication, developing clearer procedures for the Individualized Education Program process, and implementing training for staff, teachers, administrators and parents, Rodriguez said.

A behavior specialist, hired last year, has been following through on IEPs to make sure they are carried out with fidelity, Schettler said. In the past, some plans have been written out but not implemented fully, he said.

Rodriguez is also working to fill all the positions in the department, since two of the three program specialist positions were vacant all of last year.

Many special-education advocates and parents attended the meeting, but none spoke during public comment.

The Board of Education also adopted the 2013-14 budget at Tuesday’s meeting. District officials expect additional funding from the dissolution of Santa Barbara’s Redevelopment Agency and parcel tax increases passed by voters last November.

It’s still unclear how the new Local Control Funding Formula will impact school finances, so the district budgeted based on the existing revenue limit system, according to assistant superintendent of business services Meg Jette. The budget passed by the Legislature also includes two years of funding to implement the Common Core State Standards with money for professional development, technology and materials.

Board member Ed Heron and others were concerned the district doesn’t spend enough on deferred maintenance, and Cash said there will be a detailed funding and repair schedule coming forward in a few weeks.

The current year’s budget includes one-time bonuses for all employees from Redevelopment Agency funds.

On a separate item, the board approved a new community resource coordinator position — paid for by outside funding — to be a full-time liaison for the district and the THRIVE Santa Barbara County program. Cash wants to replicate the success seen with THRIVE Westside and eventually expand it to every district school site.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli 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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