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Santa Clara Unified Special Education Department Asks for Flexibility

General Education and Special Education students will face challenges as they find their footing after the COVID-19 pandemic derailed their education. At Santa Clara Unified School District, the Board of Trustees is scrambling to find solutions.


Special Education Analysis

When they hired their Special Education Director Kathy Alaniz, the District wanted to do a comprehensive review and thorough analysis of the Special Education Department, said Superintendent Dr. Stella Kemp. On Thursday, June 24, School Services of California presented their findings and recommendations.


Suzanne Speck, Executive Vice President of School Services, cautioned that at Santa Clara Unified’s Special Education is underfunded so they should be careful how they spend their money and emphasized that Special Education isn’t a stand-alone program. One of their recommendations was to make sure that General Education expenditures that are given to all students are categorized as such so they are taken out of the General Fund, and only the additional supports for Special Education students are being paid for out of Special Ed funds, said Brianna García, Vice President.

Another recommendation was to improve communication to be clearer and more consistent. Charlene Quilao, Assistant Director, Management Consulting Services, said the District should establish clear and concise procedures, create a handbook and hold regular meetings with staff. Quilao added that staff should be held accountable.

Quilao also said the District could benefit from a stronger multi-tiered system of support (MTSS). The District could do more to create a sense of a culture of inclusion and increase inclusive options for all students. They also pointed out that Special Ed interventions are not uniformly implemented across the District and they must establish policies and procedures.

In the comparative analysis, Speck said the department is overstaffed and understaffed in different areas. She said they are not necessarily recommending the addition of any particular staff but are recommending they develop and implement written guidelines for assessing the need for additional classroom support or assignment of paraprofessionals. She said training or temporary support could address some short-term needs. The addition of staff should be based on long-term continuing goals or needs, said Speck.

Board Clerk Bonnie Liberman said they are hearing from teachers that they do need more classroom support. Speck said they are not saying needs don’t exist, but the District’s problem is it doesn’t have the procedures to thoughtfully evaluate the need for more staff.

School Services presented more findings and recommendations and the full report can be found on the meeting’s agenda.

Board Vice President Vickie Fairchild expressed concerns about the number of administrators. She also pointed to the survey School Services conducted, saying almost 30% of parents don’t feel their child’s needs are being met.

“That’s embarrassing…We need to start meeting the needs of our kids in a timely matter,” said Fairchild.


Staffing Ratios for Special Education

At past meetings, the Board discussed how to best serve Special Education students, especially when many have been without services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Alaniz presented updated staffing levels for Special Education and stated these are the minimums that she thinks the department will need. However, she would continue to work with her staff to assess their needs. The issue is, they don’t know how students will return for the regular school year.

In her presentation, Alaniz shared they are planning for five itinerant paraeducators to deploy immediately, which is a minimum, with added temp/sub help. There will also be three more behaviorists. She emphasized many times the need for flexibility due to so many unknowns the department is facing. Dr. Kemp emphasized that Alaniz can always get more support.

Alaniz also presented a new interim process that could help get support to students faster and reminded the Board that many paras may need more hours to provide support.

Fairchild and Liberman wanted to make sure the Special Education department has the staffing it needs. The Board Members all referenced emails from Special Ed teachers saying their classes are too large and they need more support.

Fairchild tried making motions to give Alaniz more paras, however many on the Board were hesitant to overstep and tell Alaniz what she should have instead of honoring the flexibility she was asking for.

Board Member Dr. Michelle Ryan said they should trust their Director’s expertise, and the Director is asking for flexibility and not a blanket solution. Ryan said it wasn’t the Board’s role to tell Alaniz what she needs. “We’re crossing so many lines.”

After some rounds of Board comment, they landed on the final motion: Increase the amount of itinerant paraeducators from five at the start of the year to up to 10 or more as needed. Fairchild accused the Board of resisting adding more paras.

“We’re not quibbling over the cost of five paras, we’re spending all this time because we want to support our staff and trying to listen to what they need and making sure we’re giving them what they need,” said Board President Jodi Muirhead, “and not inflicting something on them that they don’t need.”

The motion passed 4-2, with Ryan and Board Member Andy Ratermann voting no.


Superintendent Raise and Bonus

The Board gave Dr. Kemp a satisfactory annual performance evaluation and unanimously approved a base salary increase of 4.5% plus a career increment increase of 2% — according to the Board, all staff got the same boost — for a total of 6.5% or $18,233.

The Board memorialized her term extension, and they also authorized a one-time cash-out of accrued and unused vacation.

Also, according to the employment agreement, the Board approved a merit bonus of 1% plus an additional $2,000 — the Board said this is consistent with the $2,000 staff got — for a total of $4,805 in bonuses.


Voting Rights Outreach

Board Member Jim Canova made a motion to pull the agreement with Voler Strategic Advisors for CVRA communication services from the consent calendar. He said he had wanted the interested firms to present to the Board so they could select one. Board Members were split. Board Member Albert Gonzalez said they were getting into the weeds and Ryan was concerned about the timeline.

The motion passed 4-3, with Gonzalez, Ryan, and Muirhead voting no. The Board will probably meet in July to accommodate this.


Other Business

The Board voted to appoint Stacy Joslin to the Director of Human Resources and appointed Angela Kretsch to Vice-Principal of Peterson Middle School.

The 2021-2026 Strategic Plan was approved. Ratermann voted no because he was “not comfortable with the way it was structured.” The 2021-2022 Adopted Budget was also approved.

They unanimously passed a Water Conservation Resolution, which was first requested by Ratermann.

The Board’s next scheduled meeting is on Thursday, August 12 at 6:30 p.m.


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