Children and Youth

Hollister School District board makes cuts to special education

Superintendent Lisa Andrew says a mental health program will be added

Hollister School District board members at the March 28 meeting continued to make cuts, approving a resolution to reduce the amount of classified employees in the special education program.

In February, the school board made a reduction in staff that resulted in the loss of 14.5 employees, 4.5 of those were full-time in the special education program.

The decision was based on recommendations from the Special Education Task Force and the Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) Study. In 2014, the task force, made up of parents, teachers and special education directors, approved the study that would help drive the reallocation and reorganization of the special education department for the next three years.

“The professional development plan for Special Education will be based on the California Department of Education’s Special Education Task Force Professional Development recommendations of training on evidenced based practices,” the agenda item read.

While no exact number of employees was given, district Director of Human Resources Erika Sanchez said, “The total amount of people right now is a bit difficult to determine.” She attributed the difficulty to seniority rankings among staff.

“What will happen with the approval of any type of reduction resolution, in the classified world, HR (human resources) meets with the employees,” Sanchez said. She added that the district discusses options with the individual employees that won’t be retained to provide them with the most amount of information to improve their career options going forward.

During public comment, district occupational therapist Steve Brlansky said, “We’re looking at going from two full-time to one-and-a-half, is what the proposal is?”

He went on to say the district could become non-compliant as the limited staff would not be able to provide the services students needed.

“It hurts the students, the No.1 thing, and also sets us up for a lot of litigation,” he said.

“… with the proposed cuts, we will be at our max, actually over our max. It it really concerning to me,” district occupational therapist Alma Nunez​ said referring to the current student-to-teacher ratio.

District Speech-Language Pathologist Cheryl Rios said that at a meeting where they were first introduced to the task force plan, the staff was told that “special ed students were not hbe eld to the same high standards for improvements as general education students are.”

“Last week, the Supreme Court overturned a decision where they have ruled special education students must have an appropriately rigorous and challenging curriculum. Otherwise, they said ‘why send them to school?’,” she continued. “I ask you to to please let us maintain our premier program.”

Dr. William Gillaspie, deputy administrative officer of FCMAT said, “The potential reductions is not because anybody hasn’t been doing a great job; they’re heartfelt. People who work with special education, their heart is on their sleeve. They care about the kids, they do a great job, but at the same time the school board has an obligation to be fiscally competent. ”

“When we look at staffing ratios, for instance, they have to be in compliance with the industry standards,” he continued. “What we found here, the statewide average is about 40 percent of the budget is out of the General Fund, you’re headed to about 60 percent and will be up.”

Superintendent Lisa Andrew said, despite the staff reductions, the school district would be adding programs to benefit student needs along with program specialists who will support teaching staff to implement the new curriculum.

“This plan was a reorganization and reallocation so there is some funding that we are moving from one place to another based on need,” she said. “In that plan we are adding mental health, mental health coordinator and mental health intern.”

Laura Romero

Laura Romero has been a reporter and handled marketing/social media for BenitoLink. She has covered education and city government. Formerly, she worked as an assistant account executive at Pembroke PR in San Francisco, where she assisted with press outreach, event coordination, and social media planning. With her PR skills, she has helped to implement social media strategies and develop online giving campaigns for BenitoLink. Laura continues to contribute to BenitoLink on a freelance basis.