County to cut back on special education

The Office of Education will slash 64 special education positions and cut nearly $5 million from the program in the coming year, following the release of a task force report focused on improving cost effectiveness.

The cuts are part of an overhaul of the county's method of billing area school districts for providing special education services, and come after the Office of Education was forced to tap into its reserves in March and pay $1 million to local districts after miscalculating special education costs. The task force was formed shortly after a series of billing errors came to light.

Local districts contract with the Office of Education to provide special education classes to studentswho cannot be served in mainstream classes. Under the new system, more responsibility will be shifted to local districts in hopes of holding down costs.

Exactly how many of the 64 staff positions will be transferred to other districts isn't clear, officials said. “I am very concerned that my children, and all the children, aren't getting the services they need to obtain an appropriate education,” said Sheryl Munoz-Bergman, a Redwood City resident whose two sons attend county-run special education classes.

County teachers are already stretched thin with too few resources in their classrooms. Munoz-Bergman said.

Teachers union officials said the cuts disproportionately affect those who deal with students on a daily basis — including 22 teachers and 38 paraprofessionals — while less than one full-time position will be cut at the administrative level. The secretarial and custodial staff will lose three and one-half full-time positions.

“Just to keep cutting, keep cutting, keep cutting means the quality isn't going to be there,” said Tina Dress, president of the San Mateo County Educators Association.

The latest reductions also raise classroom safety concerns, coming, as they do, on the heels of 27 staff cuts last year, Dress said.

A total of 20 special education classes will be dropped from the county's schedule, and the Loma Chica site in San Bruno will be closed. The Office of Education also plans to re-evaluate, and possibly eliminate, a second summer school session and limit the number of one-to-one aides. The overall budget will be trimmed from about $32 million to $27 million, according to Office of Education Superintendent Jean Holbrook.

“We based our staffing projections on the numbers of students that districts told us they were going to send us,” Holbrook said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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