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Special Ed Cuts Make It Impossible To Obey Law, Stone Leaders Say

By Linze Rice | October 1, 2015 5:46am
 Stone Scholastic Academy is slated to lose four special education and diverse learning positions, but have until Nov. 2 to appeal to CPS.
Stone Scholastic Academy is slated to lose four special education and diverse learning positions, but have until Nov. 2 to appeal to CPS.
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Facebook/Stone Scholastic Academy

WEST RIDGE — Amid looming cuts for special education and diverse learning positions at dozens of Chicago Public Schools, one Local School Council is worried cuts in staffing will put CPS in a legal bind.

"When we look at what our legal requirements are for individual plans, there doesn't seem to be any way we're going to be meeting our legal requirements of staff," Vito Greco, the chairman of Stone Scholastic Academy's council, said Wednesday.

He said he's not sure of the rationale behind the cuts, but that Stone would advocate for their staff, already "lean to begin with in terms of what our legal requirements are."

Mandates at the district, state and federal level require schools to have a minimum number of special education staff on hand depending on the diverse learning population at each school. Many students in special ed programs have an Individual Education Program, or IEP, that caters to their specific learning needs.

Linze Rice says the appeals process mean cuts are delayed for now:

Schools who fail to have enough staff to meet the requirements could open themselves up to lawsuits, advocates for special needs students say.

"It would be really difficult for CPS to say, 'We have to cut them anyway and not meet our legal requirements,'" Greco said.

But CPS said its committed to serving the city's most vulnerable students and said the cuts won't require schools to violate the law.

“Delivering services to Chicago diverse learners is a critical part of CPS’ mission to ensure all of our students have the tools and resources they need to be successful in school,” CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said in a written statement.

Stone, an elementary school at 6239 N. Leavitt in West Ridge, is slated to lose two special education teachers and two aides from its roster, according to a spreadsheet of potential budget "adjustments" released by CPS Friday. Though CPS said the adjustments district-wide were linked to student enrollment, the school saw no change in its expected enrollment of 626 students.

Still, in a statement Tuesday, CPS says they crunched the individual numbers at each school to come up with appropriate figures for special education cuts.

"The Sept. 25 budgets used actual enrollment as a basis for funding and included adjustments in Diverse Learner funding that were based on diverse learner enrollment and required minutes in each child’s IEP," according to CPS.

But Greco says the numbers don't add up, and he and others at the school can't figure out the district's formula used to determine the figures presented. CPS hasn't released the formula publicly.

"The formulas they're using ... I just don't know where it came from or what it means," he said. "How they come up with the numbers in the bigger picture is beyond us. It's not adding up."

He said his school hasn't had time yet to meet since getting the "unexpected" news of cuts late Friday, with some staff not finding out until Monday morning.

But after talks with other council members and Principal Barbara Onofrio in the past few days, he said Stone plans to present a case to CPS that will likely call for keeping three or four of the positions CPS wants to cut.

Based on the school's affected population, it's the legal and necessary number of positions they need, he said.

"We know what to do, we're just waiting for what the response is. We know exactly what we need for IEPs and how many minutes are required by law — it's not like we have staff with nothing to do that can take on a lot of additional diverse learners and special ed kids. We're cutting it close," Greco said.

Stone also has $24,207 in unused funds held in a "contingency account" — a new practice that allows schools to hold about 1 percent of their annual budget aside "specifically for unexpected" expenses, CPS says on its website.

It is also the first year schools are being held financially responsible for having lower actual enrollment than predicted.

Ironically, Stone was among several West Ridge area schools that did not see major cuts at the beginning of the school year, but rather was given a $19,752 bump from CPS.

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