A three-year plan to transition more than 100 special-education students from county care to the Santa Barbara Unified School District passed narrowly last week with a rare split vote by the district’s five-member Board of Education. At issue was whether the district will have enough resources to properly handle more students that require specialized teaching skills, according to the vote’s two dissenters, Pedro Paz and Monique Limón.

While Limón noted that special-ed teachers and administrators already operate with full plates, Paz said he couldn’t bring himself to vote for a program laden with apprehension on the part of some parents. “I just feel like there’s something we’re not catching, and it’s coming back [to us] through the parents’ struggles and feelings of frustration,” he said. Paz and Limón’s votes reflected testimony describing outnumbered and inadequately trained classroom assistants and high turnover among special-ed teachers.

But the space and staffing potential does exist, according to Helen Rodriguez, the district’s assistant superintendent of special education. Ultimately, she added, the effort will see to it that preschoolers and groups from Goleta Valley Junior High School and Dos Pueblos High School that have long been handled by the Santa Barbara County Education Office will soon return to their home district. “For me, the capacity is going to be there,” Rodriguez said. By July 2018, when the phased-in program is scheduled to be firing on all cylinders, it will service an estimated 123 students at a cost of $1.4 million annually. The cost will be offset through savings, noted boardmember Ed Heron, explaining that the district will no longer have to pay the County Education Office to instruct these students. Superintendent Dave Cash added, “I can tell you that we won’t be spending any more money.”

The first round of hiring is slated for early next year, when the district plans to assemble an Early Childhood Assessment Team composed of a preschool special-education teacher, a speech and language pathologist, an occupational therapist, a school psychologist, and a nurse.


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