21 Apr Parents Push to Save Special Ed Jobs

April 21, 2010

By: Susan Misur
Source: New Haven Register

Parents defended special education coordinators and paraprofessionals at a budget hearing this week, as proposed budget plans may require numerous educators to be laid off at the end of the school year.

Superintendent Thomas Forcella has announced that the positions of two special education coordinators and seven paraprofessionals may be eliminated in the proposed 2010-11 budget of $50.02 million, which is a 2.8 percent increase over the current budget of $48.66 million.

“People don’t realize the impact paras have on all students,” resident Marlene Bodnar told the Board of Education at the first of two hearings this week. “Paras help educate all students, even if they’re there for special ed students. Paraprofessional support is not a luxury, but a necessity.”

Officials also anticipate cutting seven teachers, including a library aide, computer teacher and part-time guidance counselor, two custodians and one secretary, bringing the layoffs to 19.

The two special education administrative positions cost a total of $210,000, but funds supporting their salaries will be reallocated to hire or promote four people as instructional coaches.

By laying off the 17 other workers, $700,000 will be saved, Forcella has said.

Special education cuts have been the focus of many parents’ concerns since budget discussions began.

“I think many parents have been wondering, ‘How will this affect my family?’” PTA co-President Kim Beckett s aid at the hearing.

But officials maintain that they’ve worked with principals to ensure there will be enough teachers and paraprofessionals for special education students as required by each child’s individualized education program. If some students unexpectedly enter the program next year, more educators may be hired, and others will be moved to schools that have higher populations of special education students, he said.

And not all paraprofessionals being cut are in the special education program, he added.

“It’s very fluid. … We legally have to provide those services for special education students,” Forcella said.

Resident George Becker asked who would take on responsibilities of the two coordinators scheduled to be laid off, questioning whether others have enough experience in special education.

Forcella responded that the district’s principals are qualified and other school districts also assign most special education program work to principals.

But, nothing is set in stone, board members said.

“The board will have a discussion and will have to decide what to do, and that’s why we have the forums. This is only the proposed budget,” Forcella said. “The board may want to do something else after listening to what people have to say.”

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