Deputy Superintendent Tim Walker, who has been an official in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District since 2005, has submitted his resignation, which will be effective on June 30, 2008. Walker has been a target of critics of the district’s policies regarding special education students and their parents.
Assistant Superintendent Michael Matthews told the Mirror that Walker has been on home assignment since May 2, the day after the School Board approved a mutually agreed-upon settlement between the district and Walker.
Walker began his work in the district as the director for the Special Education Department and continued to supervise the department after he moved up to be the Deputy Superintendent. The district, under his direction, began the increased use of settlement agreements with confidentiality clauses for parents to secure needed services for their children from providers outside of the district. These agreements were justified as a way to contain district special education services costs. Over the last three years, there have been 140 of these agreements.
An independent audit of the special education program was prompted when the Santa Monica 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] The report prepared by independent auditor Lou Barber & Associates, released in April of this year, found that the district was using settlement agreements much more frequently than surrounding districts. The report also noted that such agreements are not an effective way to contain costs.
School Board President Oscar de la Torre, in an interview with the Mirror, mentioned that the Board implemented a moratorium on the district using the settlement agreements in July of 2007. However, the “data suggests that the directive on the moratorium was almost ignored by high-level staff in Special Education,” he said. Walker, therefore, in his opinion, is responsible for ignoring that directive.
“Tim Walker is gone from our district and that is a very good thing,” said Tricia Crane, who led the reform movement that led to the administrator’s departure. “It needs to be remembered that without the City Council leaders Katz, Shriver, Holbrook and Genser, nothing would be different. Without courageous parents speaking out, the use of secret deals in special education would still be an alternate pathway with no accountability or transparency and a steadily eroding public confidence in our public school system. The superintendent’s planned restructuring must bring in an independent consultant to help lead our district away from a culture of fear and secrecy toward one of parent-professional partnership. Until that happens, the culture Tim Walker created will still be with us.”
At the May 1 School Board meeting, many district special education personnel and parents praised the Special Education Program and Walker. Special Education teacher Nathan Garden told the Board, “As of late, our department has been under scrutiny and falsely misrepresented by the Lou Barber report as well as by members of the community.”
Malibu parent Suzanne Foremen stated that her six-year-old “received every bit of service we requested. We have a special deal, and I call it a special deal not a secret deal because nobody held a gun to my head and asked me to sign it. Basically, I was told that if I wanted a special service, I needed to sign a contract and I did.”