CUSD Governing Board Meets And Hears Annual Special Education Report - Coronado Eagle & Journal | Coronado News | Coronado Island News: Coronado City News

CUSD Governing Board Meets And Hears Annual Special Education Report

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Posted: Thursday, October 24, 2019 1:04 pm

The Coronado Unified School District (CUSD) school board held its monthly meeting last Thursday, Oct. 17. President of the board, Captain Lee Pontes, was not in attendance and so the meeting was overseen by Trustee Julie Russell as interim president.

There was a single action item on the agenda which dealt with the adoption of board policies. Trustee Valdes-Clayton commented – although not specifically on the current adoption – that with the recent passage of legislation at the state level regarding “no more shaming over unpaid school lunch balances,” that such language would be adopted locally as well. Valdes-Clayton indicated that even in our community, there are students who face food insecurity and it is good that this will not be an issue. She said, “That’s something nice. It establishes more of a community feel without distinguishing the haves and the have nots.”

Russell responded: “Well, who’s covering the cost? Is it the state or is it us?” When told that it is the local district, she added: “Let’s just hope the other government entities pay up … I mean, I’m totally for it, but uh, ok, it’ll be interesting.”

CUSD Superintendent Karl Mueller indicated that “we already have some pretty secure protocols in place for how we support our students,” but suggested that this be examined in a future report.

The single item passed unanimously, with Pontes absent.

There were several other topics of interest discussed at the meeting. First, Trustee Maria Simon pointed out that the Coronado Middle School PTO had donated $15,000 for the CMS innovation lab. Mueller noted that because of the collaborative leadership meetings where representatives of the district, schools, parent and community organizations collaborate, it is possible to effectively and efficiently allocate funds, leading to such projects.

Another notable item was approved on the consolidate motion for consent calendar: a contract to assess solar feasibility for the district. Prior to this, the Committee to Assess the Student Learning Environment (CASLE) had considered how to keep the classrooms cooler on days when the temperatures are high. While they found considerable success with window films, fans and some split system units, they also wanted to deal with one of the constraints to air conditioning – the cost of electricity. So, the district is moving forward to assess the feasibility of installing solar to lower such costs.

The majority of the meeting was taken up with a discussion of special education services. In his comments at the beginning of the meeting, Mueller set the stage for the discussion when he said that there has historically been a shortfall in federal funding for federally mandated services. He indicated that the federal government had promised to support 40% of costs that fall on local districts, but it “has never really broken through 16-17%.” So, while CUSD had legally mandated expenses in 2017-2018 of approximately $8 million for special education, the federal funding to support that was slightly over a half million (or about 7%) and the state share was just over $3 million (approximately 40%), with the local district funding more than half.

Niamh Foley, the Director of Student Services, provided a deeper dive into the data in her annual report to the board. She began by pointing out that, “Special Education is a service; it is not a place.” Rather, it is specially designed instruction to allow to “the maximum extent possible, children with disabilities to be educated with their non-disabled peers.”

Foley indicated that while more improvements will come, there are many achievements over the last year: the development of district special education committee; increased educational specialist positions; lowered caseloads and and increased continuum of services. She also discussed the Diagnostic Center Project with Village Elementary where district officials provide “professional development to enhance inclusive learning practices,” at no cost to the district.

One problem, noted by Simon, is that regardless of spending efficiencies the department identifies, there are many costs that can not necessarily be controlled. For instance, Simon said that we know that “residential treatment costs will go up almost $400,000 from the current $234,000,” in the coming year. Foley, however, also added that the creation of a new position for a Board Certified Behavior Analyst will decrease some costs (bringing services in that are currently being outsourced). To which Mueller added that creating the position also “increases our internal capacity,” making it easier to cope with changes rather than being more reactive.

At the end of the discussion, Simon brought up an issue that has long concerned her: the need to advocate at the federal level for more funding. Mueller agreed, but added that the approach should be two-pronged. He suggested that funding overall is beneficial to all students and that currently, “California is currently in the bottom 20%” of state funding to public education.

The next meeting will be held on Nov. 14 at 4 p.m., in the board room at the district office on Sixth Street.

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