Parents decry special ed inaction

A year after a civil grand jury reported problems with staffing and resources in the county’s autism education program, parents want to know why no working group has met to discuss the issue.

The rising dissatisfaction of parents comes a week after the Office of Education announced it would cut more than $5 million and 64 positions from the special education budget for the 2006-07 fiscal year.

Of particular concern for several parents is that a pilot program — lauded as a successful model in the grand jury report as well as by the Office of Education — won’t receive full funding for a the second straight year, said Patricia Sharp, whose 8-year-old stepson participates in the program at Palos Verdes School in San Bruno.

“Without all the pieces of the program in place, the model begins to fall apart,” Sharp said of the pilot program.

The team-based model provides daily and weekly training from psychologists, speech therapists and other specialists for para-educators, who often don’t have degrees but deal most closely with students. What’s more, the pilot program has been without a division head and lead psychologist since summer 2005.

“Finding good special education staff is very hard because there is a shortage nationally, and finding someone with a specialization in autism is like gold,” said the associate superintendent of student services for the Office of Education, Sue

Larramendy.

As a district with midrange salaries, the Office of Education often finds itself competing against better-funded schools in the county, Larramendy said. But staffing and resource cuts, as well as teacher recruitment and retention, are subjects a committee should be looking into were it meeting, said parent Sheryl Munoz-Bergman, a Redwood City resident whose two twin sons are autistic.

Lauren O’Leary, head of the county Special Education Local Plan Area, offered no explanation as to why the Countywide Autism Committee, made up of SELPA members, failed to meet this year, in spite of the grand jury report’s recommendation for such a committee.

“We didn’t meet this year, but plan to reconvene next year,” O’Leary said.

Parents plan to pressure Office of Education Superintendent Jean Holbrook for more answers on the cuts and elements of the grand jury report that were never implemented at the county Board of Education’s meeting Wednesday. The board will meet at 7 p.m. at 101 Twin Dolphin Drive, Redwood City.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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