Caldwell teachers union fights changes to special education program

The Caldwell School District and its teachers union are at odds over changes to the district’s special education program that will shift some district positions to third-party providers next year.

The district says the changes are the result of a 2019-2020 review of special education services that found special education services are “overstaffed in some areas and understaffed in others,” and that the changes will not reduce services for students.

The Caldwell Education Association and district parents started a petition urging the school board to stop what they call the “privatization” of services. As of Monday, the group had collected almost 600 signatures.

“Not only will this impact our most vulnerable students and communities during a time that supports are needed more than ever, it will leave dozens of employees who have committed themselves to the Caldwell School District without school district jobs, benefits, and PERSI retirement,” the petition says.

The district plans to shift, or eliminate, around 30 of the district’s 140 district special education positions next year. It will contract with partners outside of the district to continue providing those student services.

For example, the district employed 24 behavioral interventionists in the 2019-2020 school year. The plan for 2020-2021 is to cut that down to nine district employees,  then contract with outside agencies for 17 additional behavior interventionists. That brings the total behavioral interventionist count to 26.

The district plans to add teachers and paraprofessionals at some of its schools, while reducing staff in programs like occupational therapy and speech services based on the anticipated caseload for next year.

District spokeswoman Allison Westfall said the changes are not a result of coronavirus-related funding cuts. The district anticipates spending an extra $100,000 in general funds on special education services next  year, she said.

Joe Grover, vice president of the Caldwell Education Association, said the union is concerned that outside providers work with a higher caseload than a district-specific employee would. He worries that will damage the services Caldwell students receive.

“There’s no way the kiddos will get the services they were used to getting,” Grover said.

The move comes as an unexpected blow to the 20 or so union members whose positions are being shifted, or cut, Grover said. Affected staff were first notified of the changes in May.

“It kind of sends a message that  our community members are not good enough to educate our own children,” Grover said. “That’s what our members have said to me:  Are  we not good enough  anymore that we have to go outside of our community  to find the experts?”


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