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Santa Barbara School District to Bring Special-Education Therapist Positions In-House

The Santa Barbara Unified School District's special-education department will be providing more services in-house next year, the Board of Education decided last week.

The K-12 district contracts with the Santa Barbara County Education Office for several services now, but wants to hire its own occupational therapists starting in 2014-15.

The 2009 report from the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team scolded the district for its special-education services, poor communication with parents and inconsistent staffing. One of the many recommendations was to enhance district services, and the district wanted to bring the occupational therapist positions in-house, according to human resources director Margaret Christensen.

The therapists will work directly with students in classrooms and coordinate their work with teachers’ lessons.

Superintendent Dave Cash said it’s about creating a more cohesive team for the district's students.

About 77 students are expected to get services from the district next year, while about 25 more severe students still will get services from the county.

It could be difficult to fill the three positions, since occupational therapists are in high demand and the county already has trouble finding enough people, assistant superintendent of special education Helen Rodriguez said, adding that sometimes the county even has to contract out.

The Department of Labor expects OT employment to increase 33 percent between 2010 and 2020, mostly due to the country’s aging baby-boomer population.

The district will try to get volunteers for the positions from the county but may have to recruit externally.

Santa Barbara Unified will save about $50,000 the first year and $99,461 in subsequent years by bringing the positions in-house, Rodriguez said.

Santa Barbara County has a unique model where the county hires all OTs and contracts them back to the districts, said Jarice Butterfield, county director of the Special Education Local Plan Area.

Santa Barbara Unified and the K-6 Goleta Union School District are both deciding to have more local control and hire at the district level, Butterfield said.

She supports the model, saying it’s always better for a district to have its own employees providing the services for more communication and direct control over services.

Since the occupational therapists still will operate under guidelines, there won’t be much of a difference in services except more local control and the hiring process, Butterfield said.

Goleta Union’s Board of Trustees will decide whether to transfer one full-time occupational therapist at Wednesday night’s meeting. It is billed for services that are provided by the county now and would change that starting Jan. 1. The district expects to save about $75,000 by bringing the position in-house, according to the district staff report.

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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