Special-ed cuts raise concerns

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012
— The biggest reduction in Janesville School District teaching staff next school year is likely to be among special-education teachers, and that had one school board member concerned Tuesday night.

Karl Dommershausen said he was concerned about the reduction of seven teachers who are assigned to students with disabilities.

The change would start next fall. The cuts are part of the annual teacher/aide staffing plan.

Dommershausen noted that special education can be labor-intensive, and he was concerned that students who are least able to defend themselves would lose services.

Officials said last week that special-education teachers' caseloads would increase from an average of around 12 to 14 or 15, but those caseloads still comply with state guidelines.

Most of the special-education cuts would come at the high schools. Craig and Parker would each lose two specific learning disability teachers.

Craig now has nine such teachers. Parker has 10.

Specific learning disabilities include impediments to understanding or using language. The students might have trouble listening, thinking, speaking, reading, writing or making mathematical calculations. Conditions include brain injury, brain dysfunction, dyslexia and developmental aphasia.

Craig and Parker would also each lose one emotional behavioral disability teacher.

Craig now has five such teachers. Parker has four.

Emotional behavioral disabilities involve severe and chronic behaviors that harm a student's academic, social or personal progress.

Steve Sperry, director of human and administrative services, told Dommershausen the schools can function well despite the cuts.

New programs—such as Response to Intervention, which focuses help to fix academic problems before they get worse, and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, a discipline program—are helping staff deal with student's disabilities, Sperry said.

Superintendent Karen Schulte added that the district has 108 fewer special-education students at the high schools than five years ago.

Dommershausen seemed satisfied with the assurances.

Board members on Tuesday did not ask about balancing next year's budget, which is expected to have a deficit of $8 million to $10 million—a gap that will need to be filled with taxes, other revenue or budget cuts.

The staffing plan covers a majority of district employees who represent well over half the district budget.

With all increases and decreases accounted for, the staffing plan would reduce the overall teaching staff by five and increase classroom aide hours slightly, for an overall savings of $292,141.

Schulte said Friday that she doesn't plan to give the board an estimate of the budget gap until the state issues its school-aid estimate in July.

What's next

The Janesville School Board is scheduled to discuss the staffing plan at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 27, its next regularly scheduled meeting.

The board will be asked to approve the plan when it meets Tuesday, April 10.

Last updated: 7:57 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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