‘Education’ articles

Fixing Special Ed, Part 6:
Special-ed has a fundamental problem: Government rigidity blocks innovation

Leaves school administrators stuck within
a system-corrupting dilemma: kids vs costs

When Congress in 1975 passed into law the legislation now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the bipartisan majorities were overwhelming.

In the U.S. Senate, the vote was 87 to 7. And in the House of Representatives, it was 404 to 7.

Nevertheless, the law, in truth, constituted only a first stab at solving a nationwide problem that had long bedeviled America’s conscience — namely, that public schools all across the country continued to routinely and thoughtlessly exclude handicapped kids.

What had happened by 1975, however, was that further dithering was no longer politically possible.

Federal courts were compelling states to address the issue, disabled children’s parents and advocates were becoming politically formidable, and everyone in Congress — especially following the seamy Watergate revelations of 1974 — was eager to appear before voters as high-minded and compassionate.

Yet the fact remained that the “Education for All Handicapped Children Act,” as the law was known at the time, was largely untested and experimental.

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Fixing Special Ed, Part 5:
2001: CCSD, State of Nevada lose
precedent-setting Amanda J. case

Apparent shift in district's strategy follows:
Fight until jury trial looms, then settle with parents

One of the most startling revelations about how Clark County School District had been treating — or mistreating — special-needs families surfaced in 2001.

That was when a four-year-old lawsuit — accusing CCSD of denying appropriate education to a child years earlier — was finally decided by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The case would set an important legal precedent.

By 2001, the girl at the center of the litigation — called “Amanda J.,” in the lawsuit — was 10 years old.

What was at issue, however, was what CCSD should have told her parents six years before.

Born in Las Vegas in 1991, Amanda at two years old had been found by a psychologist in to be “moderately low” in communication and daily living skills, and recommended for the District’s early childhood program.

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Fixing Special Ed, Part 4:
CCSD asked for special-ed audit
then attempted to hide results

Revealed: Records tampering, state and
federal law violations, illegal IEP changes

Remarkably, LAUSD’s current Independent Monitor, Dr. David Rostetter, who figured prominently in Part Three of this series, also has had a significant history with Nevada — specifically, with the Clark County School District.

In the 1990s, CCSD retained Rostetter and another nationally credentialed educational consultant, Dr. Ed Sontag, to audit the district’s special-education program.

The background of that hire, according to the Las Vegas Sun’s then-assistant managing editor, Ken Ward, was that since 1991 at least the district had been receiving complaints from the U.S. Office for Civil Rights (OCR) over CCSD’s instruction and transportation services for special-needs students.

Then, in October 1995, the OCR filed yet another complaint against the district, asserting five other serious issues, specifically:

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Fixing Special Ed, Part 3:
School systems have circumvented
federal special-ed law for decades

Los Angeles, Texas, New York exemplify styles of noncompliance

If you’ve ever doubted that special-needs families face grudging resistance and outright lawbreaking in America’s school districts, David Rostetter can quickly destroy any illusions you may have.

Since May 2014 Rostetter has headed federal supervision over the special-education program in America’s second-largest school district, Los Angeles United. Before that, he had a lengthy, high-level career in the federal administration and oversight of American special-education law.

Speaking to EducationWeek reporter John Tulenko in 2016, Rostetter acknowledged on the public record what many parents of special-needs children have long believed — that systemic flouting of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is conscious school-district policy in many locales across the U.S.

“I’ve had a lot of superintendents around the country,” Rostetter began. “I’ll go to them and say, ‘This is really bad over here. You know, it’s a budding lawsuit and it’s patently illegal.’

“And their answer will actually be, literally be, ‘I’ll deal with it when we get sued about it. Thanks for your advice, Dave.’”

PBS aired the full report on February 23, 2016. An MP3 recording and a transcript are online here.

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Fixing Special Ed, Part 2:
New, higher special-ed costs
looming for State of Nevada

9th Circuit signals lack of patience with ploys
school districts have used to suppress costs

Today the effective legal standard for the education and services that Nevada public schools must provide special-needs children is significantly higher than it was just 11 months ago.

That’s because of the Supreme Court’s March 22, 2017 Endrew F. decision, followed — a mere five days later — by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in the M.C. v. Antelope Valley Union High School District case.

The latter decision is especially significant for Nevada children because federal appeals out of Nevada go the 9th Circuit. And that court, in its M.C v. Antelope Valley ruling, demonstrated at least two things.

One is that the 9th will now be enforcing the new, higher, Endrew F. standard diligently — rather than tolerating, as has the Circuit at times previously, use of the de minimis approach that the Supremes struck down with Endrew F.

Another signal from the 9th, however, may be just as important.

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Fixing Special Ed, Part 1:
Supremes’ decision on special-ed
sets higher standards for care

Called ‘a recipe for financial disaster’ by
unhappy public-school administrator groups

If you’re the parent of a child with a disability, a unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court last March may have genuinely brightened your day.

Alternatively, if you’re a public-school administrator intent on maximizing school funding, your reaction could have been decidedly less positive.

March 22 was when America’s high court replaced an unquestionably low-rung legal standard for public schools’ education of special-needs children with a more demanding measure.

Parents and advocates for children with disabilities were ecstatic.

“I’m thrilled, because I think it really empowers parents to feel confident when they go in the door” to discuss their kids’ Individual Education Programs (IEPs) with school employees, said Amanda Morin.

Now, she said, parents can remind the school “that the law says that this program must be tailored so my child makes progress.”

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CCSD’s systemic problem and
its expensive consequences

Part 8: District's internal financial controls revealed as effectively nonexistent

In October 2013, the executive director of the administrators union for the Clark County School District was highly agitated over draft policy guidelines being offered for the school board’s review.

Although the guidelines seemed normal for government officials — requiring them to publicly disclose conflicts of interest — Stephen Augspurger nevertheless was saying he took great offense at the draft rules.

Augspurger, chief of the Clark County Association of School Administrators & Professional-Technical Employees, thought he saw within one draft insulting “insinuations” that one or more district administrators might be doing something improper.

“Specifically,” he told trustees, “if you go to section 12, in 6.04 and read through that language, I hope that you, as I, will take offense to what is being said there.”

Whereupon — standing before the district board of trustees — Augspurger continued through a remarkable seven-minute public diatribe [mp3 recording here] lambasting the most recent editor of the heavily marked-up draft, Trustee Erin Cranor.

Augspurger’s criticisms that day, if examined, appear to largely reflect his own preconceptions: For months the board had been making changes in its governance policies to allow stronger fiscal oversight of the district. Part Seven of this series reported that board activity in some detail.

But what was perhaps most remarkable was that the union chief also seemed to object in principle to any board effort to state clear policies against corrupt activity within the district.

Said Augsburger, referring to section 12 of that draft:

Because I think the insinuation there is [that] there is wrongdoing occurring in the Clark County School District. And I think the only logical outcome, by reading that paragraph, is that wrongdoing is being done by administrators.

I think that’s a disservice to the people that I represent.

Multiple years of hidden CCSD administrator corruption

As would soon become public information, however, corruption of significant scope had been ongoing for a minimum of seven years in at least one corner of the district’s central office.

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CCSD’s systemic problem and
its expensive consequences

Part Seven: When reforms make headway, The Empire Strikes Back

In late September 2013, CCSD Trustee Erin Cranor came across information indicating that she and fellow trustees had been misled regarding the actual costs of an insurance contract the district was expected to sign.

Rather than falling, those costs were to rise between $6 and $7 million.

Also, differing from earlier versions of the contract, the pending agreement now tripled the commission to be received by the district’s consulting insurance broker, Business Benefits, Inc.

Whereas BBI previously received a 0.75 percent commission on deals negotiated for the district with insurers, the new terms — of which BBI had not informed the district — would have kicked the commission up to 2.25 percent.

Moreover, because commissions under the new terms were, as before, tied to the total cost of CCSD insurance deals, BBI now had an even larger financial incentive to get the district signed to the most expensive insurance contracts possible.

Concerned, Cranor asked the legal counsel for CCSD’s board of trustees to review the new contract language.

The board attorney’s recommendation? For CCSD to end its broker-of-record relationship with BBI.

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CCSD’s systemic problem and
its expensive consequences

Part Six: What the Bramby Tollen episodes reveal about CCSD

It was 2009 when CCSD’s purchasing director let employees and consultants know she was intent on keeping district trustees in the financial dark.

As reported earlier in this series, Bramby Tollen directed SAP programming consultants to disappear when “a board member was coming to the department and she did not want the board member to see the consultants working in the department.”

The trustee was Carolyn Edwards, CCSD’s board president at the time, according to a Nevada Journal source.

Ad hoc candor

For a powerful CCSD central-office director to maneuver to maintain trustee ignorance is certainly noteworthy.

In the long run, however, what may have been even more significant was the mere fact, in this instance, of Tollen’s candor — her frank sharing with mere employees and consultants of what she was up to.

Although most likely inadvertent and not consciously intended, it still suggested both confidence that her power in the district was effectively beyond challenge and also that misleading trustees was routine.

Four years later, however, when Tollen was involved in yet another revelation of information that might interest the board, the results for her would be more consequential.

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CCSD’s systemic problem and
its expensive consequences

Part Five: Disgusted and puzzled, a highly paid consultant walks away

During the first six months of 2008, Ken Forrest, an independent consultant and the principal of the LDRShipSolutions firm, was employed as a top-level Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) project advisor to the Clark County School District.

Earlier, he’d been contacted by then-CFO Jeff Weiler, who’d called, saying, “I really need your help.”

Not only was Phase One of the project quickly burning money, it had also missed multiple go-live dates.

One of the first things Forrest and an associate did was to save CCSD substantial coin.

He says it became apparent to both of them “that SAP had all these consultants on site, but we couldn’t tie what they were doing to any significant work product.

“So we started tracking that and then went to Mr. Weiler and said, ‘We think we can get rid of a lot of these consultants and you won’t even notice.’ Which we did. As I recall, we got rid of about 13 of them. No one noticed that they were gone. They weren’t doing anything.”

Next was dealing with some difficulties the district was having getting the SAP Finance module “up and running and balanced.”

While CCSD had some good people working on the problem, in Forrest’s opinion, “some of the SAP consultants were less than effective, even at $367 an hour, which is, I believe, what they were charging…

“So we brought in Plante Moran, a national accounting firm. They’re big; you can Google them. They’re the guys the government brought in to fix everything after the Enron failure. I had worked with Plante Moran in Detroit. They’d been fantastic in helping me turn around what had been a qualified [accountants’] opinion to get” the Government Finance Officers’ Association Certificate of Excellence, among other awards.

“Anyway, we brought Plante Moran in, they assisted the district, and with the district’s significant contribution and help, they got that system balanced in six weeks, and up and ready to go.”

On other fronts, however — Payroll and Purchasing — Forrest says he saw significant roadblocks.

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