Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Parents Score D158 Special Education

Parents told D158's Board of Education Monday evening they didn't like its plans for using federal stimulus money for special education. While they were at it they said they weren't very happy with the District's special education program generally.

The meeting, a special committee of the whole session, sought feedback on using $1.6 million in stimulus funds to cover the salaries of special education aides and a controversial computerized reading program.

Superintendent John Burkey blamed the plan on the current budget deadlock in Springfield. He said the latest district budget was based on a worst-case scenario for state funding. "The tentative budget is just barely balanced," said Burkey. "There's a potential there'll be more revenue."

Burkey didn't reveal district contingency plans or priorities in the event the legislature manages to deliver more than minimal funding for education, however.

The current scheme allocates almost $800,000 of stimulus money to salaries for special education teacher's aides. "Many many other districts laid off staff," said Burkey. "We did not."

The bulk of the rest of the money, almost $450,000, would be used to purchase computerized reading programs for special ed students. Administrators reported the programs have already raised reading scores for general pupils.

About 30 parents complained for two hours that aides were inadequately trained to help special education students and warned that the reading programs are unproven in use outside the general student population.

In detail the parents said D158 special education did a poor job even before the current proposal. Sherry O'Brien, Lake in the Hills, charged, "My child got so depressed this year. Because you failed to teach him to read."

Parents repeatedly cited Crystal Lake's special education efforts as proof the district could do better.

Board President Shawn Green tried to distill the wide-ranging complaints into broad recommendations. "You're saying we should use some of the money to supplement (standardized testing)," he aid at one juncture. "So there should be stronger emphasis on proposals that have proven successful," was another of what Green called "bullet points."

Monday's meeting was the first of two such scheduled. A second feedback session will be tonight at the D158 Boardroom at 7 pm.

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