Atascadero Unified school board to meet about taking control of special education

Atascadero school trustees will discuss plans to transfer special education programs from the county Office of Education to its own control at a special meeting tonight.

The change will affect about 100 students — 80 students who live in the Atascadero Unified School District and 20 students who reside in nearby areas but attend school in Atascadero.

School district officials say that the change is prompted by Atascadero’s desire to gain complete responsibility for all students within district boundaries and to allow for more inclusion of those students into school programs.

The district also stands to save an estimated $600,000 by the move.

“We believe the district is responsible and capable of providing educational services for every student within district boundaries,” Superintendent John Rogers said. “Having local control over the administration of the program would allow for the district to design and implement curriculum, instruction and supervision.”

The school board voted in June to transfer classes and programs run through the county Office of Education into the district’s oversight in the 2010-11 school year.

The county program now provides Atascadero special education students with a curriculum taught by therapists, psychologists, specialists and teachers in certain schools.

The district will assume responsibility for providing those services once the classes are transferred, Rogers said.

The transfer will move eight classes of severely handicapped students, two classes of preschool students, two classes of emotionally disturbed students and one regional program class. The district is proposing to leave those students categorized as medically fragile and those in work transition programs who are older than 18 under the control of the county Office of Education.

The move follows a state and local trend, said Jill Heuer, director of the Special Education Local Plan Area.

Mandated by the state in 1977, SELPAs are formed when special-education resources and services are pooled and coordinated among many school districts and the county Office of Education.

In 2007, Lucia Mar Unified, the county’s largest school district, took control of two preschool classes previously run by the county Office of Education. That same year, San Luis Coastal took over a preschool class, two special education classes for children with severe disabilities, a special education class at Los Osos Middle School and another at San Luis Obispo High School.

In July of this year, Paso Robles Unified voted to transfer several special education classes to district oversight.

Heuer said that the goal is to make sure the transition is as seamless as possible for the students. “It is more of an administrative shift than a program change.”

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939.