Education

Montclair BOE Reviews Audit Findings, Special Services and PARCC Results

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MONTCLAIR, NJ - The release of PARCC results, special education and audit report findings were addressed at Wednesday's Montclair Board of Education Workshop.

The PARCC results will be available online Thursday, Superintendent Ronald Bolandi advised. Specific results were not provided at the workshop meeting, however, Bolandi did remark that the PARCC testing requirement has been reduced by half--one test instead of two. As the board has already announced, the district PARCC results would not be used to evaluate teachers. Bolandi asked that as readers review the data published on Thursday, that it be understood that the board cannot attest to the validity of the results.

It was suggested that parents ask their child if they took the test and if they took it seriously. Along with the PARCC data being published Thursday, the Board of Education stated that they will also provide an opt-out letter.

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Board member David Deutsch questioned, "How does the board get a data set (since PARCC cannot be used) with such a large student population?"  Bolandi suggested the district use multiple measures instead. Bolandi also wanted to note that the "PARCC drama is something that filters back into the classrooms and affects both the teachers and students."

He expressed that if given the right assessment, teachers will rise to the occasion and said, “I would rather work with the teachers” on what they want and the students need.

Board member Eve Robinson stated that she hopes that the public will speak up and be the advocate for themselves and/or their child.

The first presentation made to the Board was the presentation of the Audit conducted by Nisivoccia and presented by Ray Sarinelli. Sarinelli explained that the delay in providing the audit report and presentation to the board was due to future pension liability disclosure requirements. The Audit report contains general financial information, audited financials, and statistical data. The statistical data covers data from the last 10 years and allows for the reporting of trend analysis.

While the Audit report primarily focuses on the last 4 years of budget plans, same was described as “Mission Accomplished”. The Audit report will be published by the Board after it is approved at the January 25th meeting. The report also noted that despite the student population being down by 51 students the student population is otherwise stable.  The report also notes that although the District fund has declined since the year prior, there is still approximately $2.4 million as an unassigned fund balance with a projected $1.271 million be used in the 2015-15 budget.

Lastly, the report comes with comments and recommendations. Even though not all of the recommendations have been reconciled from the last year’s report there was improvement.

The Board was then given the second part of the Special Education presentation. The presentation by Linda Mithaug, the Director of Department of Pupil Services, wanted to be clear that special education is “A Service, Not a Place”.  With a clear path and agenda, Mithaug laid out her plan for the department’s efforts to be broken down in three ways: Building in district programs, Collaboration with General Education, and a Universal Design for Learning. With the net cost of special education in 2015-16 being $24 million explained where the money is going, such as personnel and programs/services, as well as identifying where there is room for improvement. Mithaug also explained the current funding environment- federal up $250,000 and state extraordinary aid down over $300,000.

Extraordinary aid is defined as aid that the district has to apply for based on services given to students (i.e. speech, individual paraprofessional services). One of the places for improvement was the training or cross-training of staff. Presently, the staff is only asked to complete the state mandated two hour training for special education. It was clear by the presentation and the public commentary that there needs to a collaboration with general education students.

Other recommendations include: screenings beginning in Kindergarten, handbooks and guidelines for staff and parents to identify a child with special educational needs.

Bolandi expressed that he wants to help with inclusion but the district is faced with space issues and road blocked by special interest programs that do not work. Bolandi stated that he wants to see class size numbers in teens with inclusion and co-teaching models.

Laura Hertzog expressed concern, in addition to the space issue, with the cost of special education per student.  The board’s comments brought a cheer from the crowd. The issue was then put back on the community to see “What does the community really care about?” Hertzog believes the presentations given to the board need to correlate with the price tag.

Brian Fleischer stated that he also would like to address cost avoidance stating, "What is the cost if we don’t offer the services internally?" 

Board member Eve Robinson rounded out the comments by seeking to not place the focus on cost and then determining the appropriate actions. Rather she stated that she wants to determine what the best practices are and then identify costs.

In furtherance of the Special Education presentation and the road map provided by Mithaug, Cathay Macysyn, Universal Design Learning Coach at the Department of Pupil Services, spoke about what is Universal Design and how we can implement same.

What is Universal design learning or UDL? It is a concept which emerged from the earlier concepts of barrier- free and assistive technology learning. Created by architect Ron Mace it is a learning style that addresses the initial creating of products, building, and environments to be usable by everyone rather than retro-fitting later to meet people’s needs. Universal design is being applied to the design of technology and services every day. UDL acknowledges and demand preparedness for “learner variability” Learning styles are as unique as a person’s fingerprints and each student should be given a flexible goal.

A flexible goal is understanding the concept of a book rather than assigning a book report. Outcomes could include a comic, drawing, story, etc. as opposed to a more traditional reading of book and providing a comprehensive report of same. UDL was created because the curriculum needed to be fixed not the student. Inclusive education, described as a student with intellectual or other developmental disabilities having access to general education curriculum and learning among their peers. Three points of access are social, instructional, and material. Another example of UDL is Technical Assistance. Technical Assistance may be seen by a student using audio books instead of regular books to have high school students keep up with their peers who are reading the classics.
 
School tours was discussed briefly stating that it should be clear that while the board will be proceeding with offering parent’s virtual school tours (which will be put on the Board of Education website), they will not replace in person tours. The virtual school tours are being added to accommodate the working parent. All of the virtual school tours are professional done and additional information will be provided as it becomes available.

The next meeting is January 25 at 6:30 P.M. and the agenda is set to include student field trip costs and subsidies.

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