Oxnard School District’s chief executive says officials are working hard to improve services to its special-education students, whose parents filed multiple lawsuits against the district last year.
Lawyers for the angry and frustrated parents of disabled students slapped OSD officials with 14 lawsuits at a September school board meeting; other families joined them after learning about the first suits.
Their complaints were mainly that their children have been falling behind in school because they have not been tested for learning disabilities or given the help they need after being tested.
Attorneys Janeen Steel and Shawna Parks, who represent the special-education students’ families, said the district has reached agreements with most of the families but still has some to suits to resolve.
“They weren’t really identifying the kids that need services,” explained Parks, “and the kids weren’t really getting the services.”
The remaining suits should be resolved and the matter wrapped up “one way or another” by June, said Steel, noting that district staff have been cordial in working with her and Parks to resolve the complaints.
“We’ve already worked out preliminary agreements with all the parents,” said OSD Superintendent Cesar Morales. “It’s given the district an opportunity to improve its services to its students.”
Morales put a positive spin on the district’s response to the lawsuits, saying that agreements made with the parents have “made a huge difference” in being able to provide “more focused service” to special-education students.
But Morales lamented that the state isn’t paying the extra cost of improved disability testing with better follow-up support of disabled students.
Picking up the expense has meant transferring almost $800,000 from the district’s general fund to its special-education budget, an amount that Morales says makes a big difference to the total budget.
“The district is picking up 60 percent of the special-education budget,” said Morales, who complained, “There isn’t a (state) funding mechanism that covers the cost, so local decisions have to be made.”
Emily Mostovoy, executive director of the Ventura County Office of Education’s Special Education Department, said that federal and state funding for special education classes is falling far short of what is needed or expected to be needed.
“The federal government indicated they would pay 45 percent of the cost of special education, the state 40 percent and the school districts 15 percent,” explained Mostovoy, adding that local funding amounted to about 9 percent.
“Unfortunately that hasn’t happened,” said Mostovoy, who was in Sacramento on Wednesday to testify to a legislative committee in support of an education funding bill.
The school districts are paying 62 percent of their special-education budgets,” continued Mostovoy. “They don’t get that much money, so they’re paying out of their general fund.”
School districts don’t have any choice but to fund the bulk of special-education budgets because disabled student services are a civil rights entitlement, continued Mostovoy.
“It’s been very difficult for them because they’re seeing costs rise tremendously and no additional revenue coming in,” Mostovoy said.