25 May Jordan’s Special-Ed Budget is Cut; 69 Teaching Aides Let Go (UT)

May 25, 2010

By: Rosemary Winters
Source: The Salt Lake Tribune

Twelve-year-old Daniel Beckstead uses his eyes to communicate with his teachers and classroom aides at Kauri Sue Hamilton School in Riverton. Unable to move or speak because of cerebral palsy, he can’t say when he is in distress. He just casts a glance.

Next year, there will be fewer eyes watching his.

Jordan School District’s special education department is staring down a $6.5 million shortfall for the 2010-11 school year. The special-ed budget, funded solely by state and federal sources, is separate from Jordan School District’s general fund, which faces a $17.5 million hole.

The budget cuts mean there will be fewer aides in special-ed classrooms.

Part of the special-ed deficit, $1.5 million, is due to increased retirement costs. The remaining $5 million is a result of Canyons splitting away from the district last July: About 40 percent of Jordan’s special-ed students went to Canyons, taking education funding with them.

"Our costs exceed what we will now get as a smaller district," said Beth Usui, Jordan’s director of special education. The district still operates three dedicated special-ed schools in addition to classrooms throughout mainstream schools.

To make up for the smaller special-ed budget, Jordan is cutting 19 teachers and 69 full-time classroom assistants. Thirty-four of the assistant jobs will be filled with two part-timers to save on paying benefits.

Usui has cut her own district office in half — from 18 positions to nine. As much as possible, she said, employees will be moved to other jobs within the district. Because special ed does not receive local funds, the Board of Education does not vote on the budget, which is set by Usui.

"They are dramatic cuts," Usui acknowledged. "But we would not have made cuts where we didn’t think we could still meet needs and deliver services. I would really like our parents to be assured that their students’ needs are going to be met."

At Kauri Sue Hamilton, which serves children ages 5 to 22 with severe disabilities, the cuts mean losing 14 full-time instructional assistants and four part-timers — basically one aide from each of the school’s 16 classrooms.

"These kids need one-on-one help," including diaper changes and feeding, said Jennie Beckstead, Daniel’s mom.

Daniel can’t say, "Hey, I need help," she said. "He’s got to wait until someone has enough time to see he needs help and help him. In these schools, the teachers have to know the students well enough and have enough people in the room to be able to see when someone needs assistance."

Beckstead and her husband, Doug, have planned a rally for Thursday at 12:30 p.m. outside Kauri Sue Hamilton to protest the staff cuts, which also include cutting teaching assistants’ hours from 40 to 35 hours a week. Their daughter, Aubrey, is a part-time aide at the school and will lose her job, Beckstead said.

"There has to be another way" to balance the budget, said Lani King, chairwoman of the Kauri Sue Hamilton Community Council, whose 21-year-old daughter attends the school. "With fewer staff, they’re just not going to physically be able to give as much to each student."

But Rita Bouillon, the school’s principal, said the school is up to the "challenge" of a smaller staff. The work force, she noted, will be similar in size to other special-ed schools in Utah that operate like Kauri Sue Hamilton, 2827 W. 13400 South, Riverton.

But it was hard for her to make the cuts, which, according to district rule, hit workers with the least seniority.

"It’s not like just cutting 14 line items," Bouillon said. "It’s people, and they’re good people. We’ve cried a lot of tears."

District-wide, some "cluster" classrooms that serve special-ed students at neighborhood schools have shrunk and will be consolidated, Usui said. Seven of the 19 teaching positions cut would have been reduced anyway, she said, because of smaller class sizes.

The district now has 5,660 special-ed students, down from about 8,500 before the split that formed Canyons School District.

Federal law, she noted, requires that every special- ed student receive a "free" and "appropriate" education.

"Students will be getting those same services," Usui said. "They may be getting it in a different classroom."

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