The first step toward improving the quality of the Special Education program was taken last by week by the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s Board of Education when it approved a contract with the Claros Group, which was retained, according to acting Superintendent Tim Cuneo, to act as “an outside neutral party to assist us” in taking an overall look at the program.
Some of the issues the Claros Group will examine, along with a working group of 20, came from the Lou Barber report. The recommendations developed through the review will help the District develop better ways to provide services to children and better ways to interact with their parents.
The independent consulting firm of Lou Barber and Associates prepared its report after an audit of the District’s Special Education program earlier this year. The audit was prompted when Santa Monica’s City Council withheld $530,000 of the $750,000 of the City’s increase to its annual contribution to the District because of concerns raised by Special Education parents during the City’s annual budget process in May of 2007. At that time, parents told the Council that gag orders (confidential agreements) are routinely signed by Special Education parents in order to secure services for their children. They also said that the process frequently evokes a lot of fear and intimidation for the families. Such agreements preclude the community from access to the financial records, and there is also no accounting as to the actual cost of these services. These agreements therefore, in the view of the community, prevent the District from operating in a transparent and accountable manner.
The working group of 20 will consist of Special Education parents, community members, District staff, and Board members. They will be chosen by the end of September. October will be a time of development and start-up which, according to the contract, “would allow for the on-the-ground assessment and collaborative strategy development with District Leadership.” Then the working group will deliberate on their findings.
They will take their initial findings and recommendations to a wider group for feedback and then refine them further before bringing them to the Superintendent in January of 2009. The findings will then be submitted to the Board for their deliberation. The total cost of the contract is $13,000.
Cuneo noted at the September 4 Board meeting that even though the goal of the work is long-term change in the District’s Special Education program, the working group will also be making recommendations on short-term goals. Some of the short-term goals are helping parents and District staff understand the legal issues that are part of the Special Education arena, and improving the Individual Education Program (IEP) process. An IEP is a course of study specifically designed to help a Special Education student obtain his or her educational goals.