The Board of Education began to take the initial steps towards hiring an independent consultant to review the District’s Special Education Program.
An independent review was prompted by a Santa Monica City Council decision last June to hold in reserve $530,000 of the $750,000 increase in the City’s annual base payment to the District. The decision was made after Special Education parents raised the issue about the use of confidential Special Education settlement agreements within the District. These parents told the Council that “gag orders” are routinely signed by Special Education parents in order to secure services for their children. Such agreements preclude the community from access to financial records, and there is no accounting as to the actual cost of these services. Many in the community believe these agreements can impact the District from operating in a transparent and accountable manner.
On September 28, School Board members discussed at length a draft of the Request for Proposals (RFP), which would be the key document used to locate an appropriate consultant. The draft RFP requested such consultant services as “findings and recommendations” associated with the Special Education Program, a review of program settlement agreements, costs of the program, and a review of program policies.
The Board also heard from Craig Hamilton, a member of the District’s Financial Oversight Committee, who questioned whether one consultant would have all the necessary expertise to conduct such a comprehensive review. He noted, “There are three areas of expertise” that the District is looking for: “Programmatic expertise, financial expertise, and legal expertise.” He encouraged the Board to permit any consultant that is hired to bring in other consultants as necessary to ensure that all areas are covered.
Superintendent Dianne Talarico reminded the Board, “I was very forthright and very honest when I told the Council in a public meeting that we would do this and it would be clean and it would be comprehensive. My integrity is on the line.”
The Board will review the draft RFP once again, with the goal of awarding the contract to a consultant by December 3. The final report must meet the City of Santa Monica’s March 31, 2008 deadline.
In other business, the Board awarded the Superintendent a three percent bonus on her base salary for substantially achieving two out of the four targets that were set for her in the 2006-07 academic year: completion of the Facilities Master Plan and completion of the financial assessment and implementation of the Financial Crisis and Management Assistance Team findings.