Atascadero school officials to discuss special education report tonight

The Atascadero Unified School District will have to make several key staffing changes before it can bring special education classes under its control, according to an independent report.

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 Paso Robles and Lucia Mar school districts are considering similar moves. Each of the districts has until Oct. 15 to make a final decision – allowing enough time to transition the program as seamlessly as possible for the students.

Atascadero hired the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team to review the current special education program and determine two things: whether it makes fiscal sense to transfer the program to local control, and to see if services can hold the same quality they now have through the county Office of Education.

The trustees will discuss that report at tonight’s school board meeting and possibly make a final decision.

The district does not have the administrative staff needed, including staff with the expertise in severely handicapped populations, to support the transition, according to the report.

It recommends that the district hire a program specialist, make its current director special education a full-time position, hire an additional psychologist and a part-time behavior intervention specialist, add an additional speech pathologist and an additional occupational therapist, hire one nursing position and add a part-time adaptive physical education position.

“The district will be able to hire the staff recommended in the report,” said Superintendent John Rogers. “These positions will be funded with the dollars that would otherwise be paid to the County Office to provide these same services.”

The district must also train all school principals and staff on the needs of the special education students.

The report asserts that students and the school district will benefit in five ways by transferring the programs to district control:

The transfer will move eight classes of severely handicapped students, two classes of preschool students, two classes of emotionally disturbed students and one autism 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.

County schools Superintendent Julian Crocker said the trend of districts looking to take back control of the special education classes is a combination of the districts’ desire to serve all of their students and as a way to reduce costs.

“Special education is very expensive,” said Crocker. “They hope to gain a better sense of control over the costs.”

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.

Teachers and aides currently teaching the classes through the county Office of Education will be offered the chance to transfer with the classes to the district.

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939

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