Parents, school officials clash over Metro's special-ed cuts

Friday, June 1, 2012 at 5:57pm

Incensed parents of Metro special-needs students say they were blindsided by the school district’s announcement that it would cut about 130 paraprofessionals, aides who parents say are essential to ensuring inclusive special education practices in the classroom.

“There are many parents who are in constant communication with school administrators, so there was plenty of opportunity to make us aware of their plan,” Daynise Couch, a parent of an autistic Metro student, told media gathered for a press conference to protest the job reductions.

“Instead, parents were not communicated with effectively, and upon hearing the announcement, were understandably outraged,” she said.

Friday’s protest and corresponding press conference, featuring dozens of parents and their special-needs children, came on the heels of Metro school officials’ decision to part ways with an estimated 130 paraprofessionals as a result of depleted federal stimulus funds. School administrators say the cuts equate to between $3 million and $4 million.

Metro school officials claim they started notifying parents, principals and others months ago about the looming cuts.

“It was shared with parent groups in advance, it was shared with principals in advance,” MNPS spokeswoman Olivia Brown said. “It was not a last-minute surprise.”

As parents protested Friday, school officials held a “job fair” to potentially match departing special-ed paraprofessionals with other positions within the district –– bus drivers, bus monitors, cafeteria workers and food service personnel.

Linda DePriest, assistant superintendent for instructional support, said principals identified the needs of their schools and made cuts accordingly.

“We had some paraprofessionals in place who could no longer perform the task that they were assigned originally such as lifting students,” DePriest said. “That’s why this fair was a good thing today.”

Cuts, school officials acknowledged, were not limited to newly hired paraprofessionals, or aides, but longtime Metro workers as well. Reductions will cut from the 632 paraprofessionals who worked in Metro during the previous school year.

Above all, parents worry Metro’s recent progress on adopting inclusive practices –– allowing special-ed students learn alongside peers –– could erode.

“I believe that these cuts threaten Metro’s efforts to move toward inclusive educational practices, and they stand to negatively impact students with disabilities,” said Erin Richardson, a parent of a special-needs child.

“The key to inclusive practices is providing those essential support services to students,” said Richardson, who contends paraprofessionals played a key role in that area.

Metro school officials, however, maintain the district will continue to address the needs of all students. Inclusive learning will remain the district’s policy, they say.

“We always want to support our students,” DePriest said. “We knew going in that these were temporary federal funds. And so what we did was use these positions to help our district build capacity to serve students with disabilities as we move toward an inclusionary model.

“We do believe we will be able to move forward with our inclusive practices,” she said.

6 Comments on this post:

By: Ask01 on 6/2/12 at 2:11

From the article:

“We always want to support our students,” DePriest said. “We knew going in that these were temporary federal funds. And so what we did was use these positions to help our district build capacity to serve students with disabilities as we move toward an inclusionary model."

I have a serious issue with the tactics being used by our city government, a term I use with extreme reservation, as I believe the current administration struggles to actually govern.

Federal money was accepted, knowing, I hope, full well the funding was not permanent, and in some cases, would require repayment if positions created were not retained and funded by the city.

I believe competent leadership would have made plans from the start to shift monies from other areas to continue the jobs after funding expired or have declined the "gift" altogether knowing there was no contingency in place.

That presumes, of course, competent, above board leaders.

What passes for 'leadership' in Metro, however, took the money, created jobs, and acted as if, it seems, there were no need to plan ahead.

The 'plan' if indeed one existed, seems to have been to wait until the bill was due and ask, no, demand a tax increase to cover incompetence, gross negligence, and manipulative practices.

Money was spent on all manner of other projects, (NOT MCC, at present, lest someone point out again the facility is SUPPOSED to be totally self supporting,) and tax revenue cut by doling out incentives to companies having yet to provide any benefit to residents.

As usual, the first actual and threatened cuts will be to hot button issues like education, public safety, and services. Supporters and the newspaper advocates will chide those reluctant to part with money for being shortsighted and uncooperative, moaning about how cost have increased, the potential harm to the public good, inadequate tax collections, and how cities cannot be managed like businesses.

They all seem, in their headlong rush to suck up to the mayor, to conveniently forget taxpayers expenses have risen along with the cities, and many of those residents fortunate enough to still have jobs despite the worst recession in recent history, haven't had large pay raises for a while themselves. Tax cheerleaders gloss over the fact an average citizen must take care of the necessities before buying luxury items, say, fix the plumbing before buying a hot tub, and if they overspend or over commit, must face the consequences and eat baloney instead of prime rib.

If a taxpayer who mismanaged money decided to make cuts by not adequately feeding, clothing, and sheltering their children, that parent would be arrested, yet we have our alleged leadership threatening to do exactly that by scrimping on childrens education, having fewer police, and cutting back on services. How do we report Mayor Dean and company to the proper authorities for child neglect and endangerment?

I am so sick of those salivating at the concept of new tax money asking a mostly rhetorical, almost smarmy question of, "Well, smarty pants, where would you cut?" Those inquiring ALWAYS jump on the same bus with Dean and the Metro Gang, and threaten cuts at the wrong end, at the lower end where cuts would affect those most vulnerable.

I would love for them once to start by laying off or firing the upper management who caused the mess and gutting all the assistants and any perks enjoyed by the "elite ruling class."

I envision our excuse for city government as irresponsible teenagers who, having let their automobile deteriorate, opt to buy a new paint job and detail the interior for cosmetic purposes while letting the engine and tires suffer.

Cut your own pay, Mayor Dean, along with that of Metro upper management. You didn't plan (except for taxes) for the end of federal funding for police, so suck it up and use the cops left more effectively to actually solve real crimes instead of cruising around writing parking tickets and manning speed traps.

Live within your means just like your subjects, I mean citizens.

I dare you.

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By: NilsOrion on 6/4/12 at 5:37

These children are not useful to society. It is pointless to expend funds on them. Better to spend funds on the Ubber American!

By: Rasputin72 on 6/4/12 at 1:34

The name of the game today is "free stuff".. I want to spend my money on clothes vacations in Florida and cars and houses. Any other contngency I may have should be paid for by taxing those with more money than I.

By: thinking12 on 6/4/12 at 8:51

Ask01 has it ! Couldn't have said it more eloquently myself.

I really feel that if Dean had needed this extra revenue he claims he does it would have been apparent before he was re-elected and he should have asked for it then.

Not after he is guaranteed another term in office-not the brightest light bulb....or the most upright!

But I will vote out any one who votes yes on this ! It will indicate they are as self serving as he is.

By: govskeptic on 6/6/12 at 6:25

There's a constituency for ever cause and each claim to be the most important
expenditure of every tax dollar! Saying no to spending other people's money is
the absolute hardest thing any politician can do, saying Yes, so love me is
the favorite thing!