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April 23, 2008 > Changes in New Haven Unified transportation

Changes in New Haven Unified transportation

Submitted By Rick LaPlante

The only district in the area still offering home-to-school transportation for high school students, New Haven Unified is considering eliminating the service, as it continues to plan for a $7 million reduction in state funding under Governor Schwarzenegger's proposal to slash the education budget.

The Board of Education conducted a public hearing on the proposal at its Tuesday, April 15, meeting (information not available at press time) and a vote on the proposal is scheduled for May 6.

Also on Tuesday night, the Board was asked to approve a reduction in the classified workforce, including the layoffs of six full-time custodians, two secretaries, a gardener, a technology technician, and a number of part-time employees, a total of 29.06 full-time equivalents (FTEs). The reduction also includes the elimination of 25.6 FTEs as part of a reorganization of Special Education. The District will not fill an additional 5.33 vacant positions.

The District delayed the public announcement until affected employees could be notified.

"Laying off employees is the most difficult of the very many difficult choices that we have been forced to make, to achieve a balanced budget under the conditions being imposed upon us," Superintendent Dr. Pat Jaurequi said. "As we have said all along, the Governor's cuts are devastating."

The District announced last month that five management-level positions were being eliminated and that class sizes would be larger next year, as teachers who are retiring or leaving for other reasons are not being replaced. The district was able to avoid issuing layoff notices to any of its permanent teachers.

Eliminating home-to-school transportation for high school students should reduce overall transportation costs by about $500,000, Chief Business Officer Carol Gregorich said.

"We are the last school district in our area offering high school transportation," she said, "in fact, most districts in our area have eliminated home-to-school transportation completely."

Most of the relatively few James Logan and Conley-Caraballo high school students who take New Haven buses have access to Union City Transit and/or AC Transit.

Children who are being bused across town to receive special services will attend their neighborhood schools next year, and children being sent to non-district schools will be able to return to the district under a new plan for special education being adopted by the New Haven Unified School District.

"We're going to keep our students closer to home and provide them with better service," Jaurequi said. "Our Special Education model is outdated, quite frankly, and we're going to fix it."

Part of the new plan involves discontinuing the busing of students with autism to a central location and instead providing services at their neighborhood schools.

"We're putting in place an inclusion model, built by teachers and based on best practices, that we are convinced will provide a much better educational experience for students with autism," Director of Special Services Carol Rohde said. "One of the benefits is that students with autism will be able to go to the same schools and be in same classroom as the other children in their neighborhood."

The District, which employs 158 mostly part-time classified employees to work with students who have special needs, will ask the Board of Education on Tuesday night to approve laying off 32 of those para-professionals, the equivalent of 25.6 full-time positions. Later, Rohde would hire a behaviorist, a speech pathologist and a part-time occupational therapist. With those specialists, the District could provide services for emotionally disturbed students for whom the District currently pays tuition to attend non-public schools.

This year, the District is paying $1.3 million in tuition for 26 students to attend non-public schools.

"This is about finding a way to better deliver services to students with special needs and making the very best use of our increasingly limited dollars," Jaurequi said. "Regardless of cost or savings, though, in this case, the simple fact is that we can provide a better instructional program."

The District also will make Special Education part of its new Division of Teaching and Learning.

Special Education will no longer be a silo, off by itself, so to speak," said Glynn Thompson, who will work with Rohde in his new role as Chief Academic Officer. "All of us are responsible for all of our students" general education, independent study, special education, alternative education "and we have a model now that reinforces that."

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