23 Apr Special Ed Concerns Persist in West Des Moines (IA)

April 23, 2010

By: Sheena Dooley
Source: Des Moines Register

West Des Moines parents and teachers praised district leaders’ efforts in revamping their cost-savings plan for next sch ool year but voiced lingering concerns about how the cuts will affect special education students.

More than 50 residents participated in a public forum Wednesday regarding the district’s revised proposal to trim just over $1 million in general fund expenses and another $1.3 million in special education costs. West Des Moines faces a $2.9 million deficit in its general fund next fiscal year, and officials expect to end this year $3.1 million in the red in special education spending.

Nearly 20 people spoke at the forum, many of whom thanked leaders for taking their previous input into account when crafting the new plan. However, they said they were worried about special education cuts and wanted to know how children and workloads would be affected.

"Some of this (looks OK) on paper, but in reality it’s not how it’s going to work," said Kathy Jacobson, a special education teacher in the district.

District leaders this month unveiled an initial budget proposal that included heftier cuts to special education staff and regular classroom teachers. It also called for Phenix Early Childhood Center to be reduced to a one-section school.

Officials backed off from those plans last week, asking the board for additional time to explore suggestions they received from the more than 200 people who attended public forums and board members.

Another public forum will be held at 5:30 p.m. Monday before the board meeting, during which board members might approve the recommended cuts.

"We appreciate the school board listening," said Jim Stearns, a community member with ties to Phenix. "We have achieved as much as we possibly can, given the budget situati on."

Stearns wanted to know who is charged with exploring ways to make Phenix into a magnet school. The updated proposal gradually begins the change to a one-section building at Phenix by eliminating one kindergarten class.

District officials have said if the school can increase enrollment by offering a unique program, it could avert further cuts. Stearns’ question went unanswered.

A majority of parents and teachers questioned the cuts to special education, which include eliminating nine teachers and 30 teacher assistants.

Amy Barber, a special education teacher at Westridge Elementary School, said her school will lose half of its three full-time special education teaching positions, which concerned her because of the implications for students’ individualized education plans, or IEPs.

"We will see how this works," said Superintendent Tom Narak. "I want people to know we honor IEPs, and if it causes us to shift from some of these numbers, then we will do that."

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