Lou Barber and Associates, the independent consulting firm hired by the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District to audit its Special Education program, has released its report confirming what many parents have been complaining about for years.
The audit was prompted when Santa Monica’s City Council withheld $530,000 of City money to the District because of concerns raised by Special Education parents during the City’s annual budget process in May of 2007 (Santa Monica Mirror June 7-13, 2007).
Attorney Tamara VonBuck, a member of the consulting team, told the Board at an April 3 meeting that settlement agreements (with confidentially clauses) are used by other surrounding school districts “on a very limited basis [usually from 0 to 15 a year], while in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District they reported creating 140 settlement agreements over the past three years.”
VonBuck explained this approach for Special Education causes “student services and placements not to be determined by the student’s school site’s Individual Education Team [IEP].” The IEP comes up with a plan that determines what services a student with disabilities receives to help them with their educational goals. VonBuck also noted this method causes privacy issue problems, and the confidentially clauses discourage Special Education parents from working with other Special Education parents. Research has shown such parent collaboration is very helpful to Special Education students.
VonBuck suggested that the District “minimize the use of settlement agreements” and instead train their staff “in dispute resolution training, build program capacity and program options at school sites, and decentralize authority for Special Education” programs from the central District office to the school sites.
In his remarks to the Board, Lou Barber stressed that by running the District’s Special Education program from the District office as SMMUSD has chosen to do, “You can control costs, but is not the way you should build a team approach to solving the educational needs of all children.” Barber said the best leader for this is the school principal.
Superintendent Dianne Talarico told the Board that she is responsible for preparing a response to the report and that she hopefully will have a “preliminary District response and a preliminary action plan” to present to the Board at their April 17 meeting.
The report can be found at smmusd.org.