School board talks audits, special ed.

Linda Saholt

News Review Correspondent

An extensive discussion of the Special Education program at Sierra Sands Unified School Dis-trict occupied much of the Board of Education’s March 14 meeting.

Presented by Elaine Littleton, Special Education Local Plan Area executive director for the SSUSD, the discussion centered on a report from the special education review conducted by School Services of California.

This report was the result of a study of the quality and cost effectiveness of SSUSD’s current Special Education program.

Littleton read the primary finding of the report. “The district is to be commended for the many high quality Special Education programs it operates,” according to the report, which also gave suggestions for improvement, some of which are already being implemented by the district.

Among these suggestions were: institute a quarterly budget meeting process, “implement a culture” of all staff being responsible for all students, develop budget contingencies, develop and implement a districtwide early intervention strategy, implement a student study team, develop staff, bring in a consultant for a business services management team, develop, implement and monitor procedures for adding additional instructional assistant time, develop programs and support for students with behavioral and mental heath needs, revisit SELPA’s academic testing policy, increase program specialists’ work year and more.

Forced budget cuts because of lowered state funding in the past few years have cut personnel in all areas; when more funding becomes available, the district will certainly consider expanding personnel positions back to their former level. At this time, however, that is not possible, said an SSUSD official.

The report ended with notations that it may not be feasible for the district to implement the recommendations immediately and the recognition that the district may not choose to implement all recommendations.

Board members had many questions, indicating a great concern on that all students have the best education the district can provide.

The second largest item discussed was the Second Interim Report for the Fiscal Year 2012-13. Presented by Elaine Janson, chief financial officer, and Gavin MacGregor, director of finance and budget, the district is still solvent. Both expressed concern over the State’s proposed “Local Control Weighted Formula” for school funding, hoping it will result in greater local control, as well as concern about the dreaded sequestration. This legislation was passed March 1, but negotiation is still going on, so no action has been taken as yet.

“No cuts have been imposed so far,” said MacGregor. “We’re trying to prepare for any eventuality,” said Jansen.

According to MacGregor, the district will receive more cash this year, but not until the end of the year, which will again necessitate the district’s having to borrow from other accounts in June to meet mid-year expenses.

In the union bargaining process, initial contract proposals for reopeners for 2013-14 were presented by the district to California School Employees Association (CSEA) and from CSEA to the district. The district also exchanged proposals for successor collective bargaining for 2013-15 with Desert Area Guidance Association (DAGA.)

On a happy note, Walmart donated a pallet of school supplies to Richmond Elementary School valued at approximately $5,000. The district was happy to accept.

Story First Published: 2013-03-27