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'Cost neutral' means that our most vulnerable children will continue not getting the services that they need

2018 Special Services Audit had troubling findings

In the May 23 issue of the Lake Oswego Review, Sara Pocklington, a member of the Lake Oswego School Board, is quoted as saying that she is "really excited to see some of the cost neutral solutions that [Patrick Tomblin, LOSD Director of Special Services has] put in place." In the corporate world where Ms. Pocklington works, the term "cost neutral" may be commendable but in the non-profit special services education world, especially in the case of the Lake Oswego School District where it has been documented that there are numerous areas that require significant improvement, the term "cost neutral" means that our most vulnerable children will continue not getting the services that they need and deserve.

We would encourage Ms. Pocklington, as well as every other school board member, to read the results of the 2018 Special Services Audit that was conducted by an independent consulting firm. Most of the recommendations are so basic that Mr. Tomblin, as well as the entire LOSD administration and board, should be embarrassed. To illustrate, the following are two excerpts from this audit: "Current staffing models result in students with disabilities receiving most of their specialized instruction...from assistants as opposed to highly, qualified learning specialists or classroom teachers...the practice requires the least qualified professional to work with the most complex student"; and a recommendation " . . . providing staff and the community with the historical perspective of special education as civil rights legislation protecting those with disabilities . . . would help clarify the purpose of special education as a service meant to level the playing field." This principle is so fundamental to federal law as it pertains to the right for all children to access and attain a public school education that it is frankly stunning it needs to be specifically enumerated in this audit.

Sandra Andrews

Lake Oswego

Editor's note: Lake Oswego School District Superintendent Michael Musick's reply is presented below.

During our School Board study session on May 20, the Board had a lengthy discussion about having new structures and allocation of resources put toward our Special Education (SPED) program. This presentation was in response to a Special Services audit that was presented last year. It gave the Board time to study our staff's efforts to realign our Special Services staffing by increasing the number of professionals providing specialized instruction, and on a largely cost neutral basis beginning this fall.

To even further enhance services to our special populations, the passage of the Learning Levy will allow us to add seven full-time equivalent positions for counseling and social-emotional supports, as well as full-time reading support staff in every elementary building. The goal of this work is to ensure the success of students who have learning challenges.

The author of the letter notes a comment made by Board member Pocklington, but the author did not have the complete context of our full three-month budget work. Board member Pocklington's next sentence asked how the District would be building in additional supports that are not cost neutral. On May 30, the District Budget Committee confirmed the 2019-20 budget, which includes more than 40 additional teachers, counselors and special education student support personnel within our Teaching and Learning budget.

Additionally, to add more accountability, all SPED budgets will now be under Dr. Jennifer Schiele, our Assistant Superintendent Teaching and Learning. All of Student Services is now under her supervision. This will make our team more agile and provide more services to our SPED students by ensuring alignment between all of our regular and special services programs. The reorganization of Special Services staffing will now provide the opportunity for LOSD to shift budgets toward programs and training that will also enable us to fund the student support structures Mr. Tomblin discussed during his Board presentation. This was an important and compelling recommendation from the Audit that the District is acting on.

We always appreciate input from our community, but I would like our parents and community stakeholders to know that by using an equity lens, we now have shifted and reallocated a significant amount of our 2018-19 budget to support our most underperforming groups of students within the 2019-20 budget. Let's also remember that most of the local option funds will be allocated for targeted investments to hire teachers dedicated to students who have IEP or 504 plans.

As the Board of Education and I continue to support Dr. Lora de la Cruz's transition, this budget will place significant resources toward the students who need it the most.

Sincerely,

Dr. Michael Musick,

superintendent


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