Overstaffed and inefficient: BUSD special education program flawed, review finds

Kevin Chan/Staff

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Educational Strategic Planning LLC, or ESP, conducted a study on the Berkeley Unified School District’s special education program and services that revealed issues such as overidentification of special education students, overspending and conflicts between parents and the schools.

Following a review of the district’s special education program, ESP developed a comprehensive report that details the “recommendations including, but not limited to the following to improve; communication, family school relations, fiscal accountability, the role of the principal, and the overall full-inclusion delivery stem.”

The report cites a lack of procedures and policies for the special education program, which it says “hinders interdepartmental communication and affects systems that support efficient special education operations.”

ESP reports the overidentification of special education students as an issue with the district’s program. The report states that students are overidentified in the special education program, causing a higher budget and more spending.

“The available data indicates 136 students are overidentified based on pupil counts, and the annual cost to serve a child in special education is about $20,750 per child, with a total cost of approximately $2.8 million,” according to the report.

Additionally, the district is overstaffed by approximately 7.6 psychologists compared to the statewide recommendation of one psychologist to 1,366 students. Each psychologist earns a salary of $104,579, and the overstaffing results in the district spending much more than the state average.

The report also addresses the communication problems between school administration and the special education programs. The lack of communication, according to the report, leads to inefficiencies and parental conflicts with school personnel.

Because of the lack of communication, the director of the special education department struggles to manage a program with no clear direction. “Consequently, she has little time to plan, organize, train and develop an overall delivery system based on consistency that relies on policy and procedures,” according to the report.

The report proposes that the district utilize the North Region Special Education Local Plan Area, or SELPA, which has a manual with specific strategies that will create guidelines to foster effective procedures.

According to the report, the district “should adopt the SELPA procedural manual and modify it to suit its own needs, but ensure it contains the standards necessary for legal compliance.”

Lastly, the report recommends that the district form a committee to alleviate the problems in the special education program. This committee would include special and general education staff members, parents and other district departments to develop a procedural and policy manual.

“The purpose of the committee is to improve families/school relationships and enhance leadership from the principals and director of special education regarding parents’ concerns and complaints,” according to the report.

Contact Rishabh Nijhawan at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @realRishNij.