Special Services Director Dr. Patricia Barker faulted too many demands on staff time and too few resources for incomplete results for a number of projects outsourced by the South Orange-Maplewood School District.
Barker made the assertion during a Special Education Report presented late in the Board of Education meeting on Monday, November 24.
As part of her report, Barker updated the board on the results of four projects for which District Management Council (DMC) was contracted on June 18, 2012 at cost of $450,000:
- Project 1: Implement the core reading program and refine intervention programs.
- Project 2: Refine the current model for supporting students with disabilities included in general education.
- Project 3: Special education financial management system
- Project 4: Provide project management for the creation of a special needs school on district owned property.
Barker reported some good results and some incomplete results (see Barker’s presentation below). The incomplete results, she said, were due in most part to the district not providing data.
Board member Sandra Karriem asked why the district was unable to provide data.
“Why? I can’t say,” said Barker. “It’s not in my area. I could speculate that the difficulty lay in data being entered by classroom teachers who are doing many things in a window of time that wasn’t always observed.”
She added, “There wasn’t building follow up to ensure that this happened… .So it really was problematic when you have a perfectly reasonable request for data and you can’t produce it.”
“This is so troubling,” said one board member.
“It is very troubling,” replied Barker. “I’m trying to be fair to the people who came to do this consulting for us. There were issues that were out of their control.”
Board member Andrea Wren-Hardin replied, “We as a district were unable to do this…. If I’m working and told we have to get this information, I have to do it.”
Board member Bill Gaudelli defended district staff: “The only way to fix this is not to place blame but create a structure to complete it…. It’s not easy. This happens in every organization.”
Wren-Hardin said, “We were not monitoring closely enough to know this way, way sooner than after the contract was over.”
Barker noted that other portions of the contract were completed: “This wasn’t the only thing they did for us. They did their best to suggest things and work with us.” However, she said, “For this particular project, I’m embarrassed as a data person to say this. The data could not be produced.”
Board President Beth Daugherty posited, “There is accountability at all levels. The board should be holding administrators accountable.”
But board members Sandra Karriem and Madhu Pai protested that this was the first time the board was hearing about these issues with the projects.
Pai said that there is “a difference between blame and accountability.” She asked, “Who is this person and why didn’t they do their job?”
“That person isn’t here anymore,” replied Barker, alluding to former Superintendent of Schools Brian Osborne.
Pai immediately responded, “The superintendent couldn’t be that person.”
Board member Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad said she was disturbed that recommendations were made with incomplete data. “If the DMC was going to do this massive study and pieces were provided and others were not, I question the recommendations that came in.”
Pai also questioned why there was not “a vision for special education built into this.” Barker replied that the original proposal was for four items, none of which was the vision for special education.
“I and other board members wanted a vision. I take umbrage that it wasn’t put out there. We’ve asked this question multiple times. What is it going to take to get an answer?” said Pai.
Johanna Wright decried that the district had once again outsourced work that she thought could be better performed in district, “There we go again. We outsource everything…. All this money for nothing.”
But Daugherty disagreed with Wright’s assertion that “nothing” was procured. “We got something — maybe not half a million…. I do think bringing in someone from the outside facilitated conversations that otherwise would not have happened.”
Barker concurred: “It gave us an increased desire to look at all struggling learners,” she said, and not special educations students alone. “And I don’t think we will ever again not look at the whole picture.”
Pai cautioned, “Before we take on something, let’s make sure we have the infrastructure to support it.”
“I want to latch onto one word that Ms. Pai said,” said Barker, who noted that she is retiring at the end of this school year. “Infrastructure. I’m going to tell you we don’t have enough people. There aren’t enough people to monitor and do the work. There’s too many things on everyone’s plate, and many people who come to our district as administrators will say [here, Barker shrugged] because it’s not there.” She added, “We’re all working as hard as we can. It’s embarrassing.”
Board member Jeff Bennett thanked Barker for her candor.
“We have asked the district [administration] and the board for data for so long and received none, so we were not surprised by Dr. Barker’s report — disturbed and perturbed but not surprised,” said Jane Bleasdale of the Special Education Parents Advisory Committee (SEPAC) in an email to The Village Green.
Before the conversation about DMC, Barker also reported on staffing of special education and reading intervention in various schools throughout the district, consolidated monitoring, and how the district communicates about special education IEPs and 504s (see details in her presentation below).
Barker’s report on staffing levels caused concern when it was revealed that twice as many students in Seth Boyden Demonstration School — as compared to any other elementary school in the district — were identified for reading intervention; however, the school is being served at the same staffing level as the other schools.
Noting the Seth Boyden numbers, Board member Andrea Wren-Hardin asked, “How are those students getting what they need?”
Board President Beth Daugherty agreed that the Seth Boyden number was “jumping off the page” and “needs to be addressed.” Bennett took Daugherty’s comment farther later in the evening: “The ratio at Seth Boyden is unacceptable. We need to shift resources there.”