Quote of the DayFebruary 28, 2011
Cuomo Hearts ChristieMarch 1, 2011
Education Law Center has just posted the Complaint Investigation report from the DOE in response to allegations that Paterson Public Schools withheld mandated special education and related services to hundreds of eligible preschoolers. In addition, ELC alleged, Paterson has been violating time frames for evaluating referred preschoolers, not providing summer programming, not providing resource rooms, and not staffing classrooms with certified special education teachers.
Paterson’s response has been that a state hiring freeze forced the district into non-compliance.
The DOE found that just about all of ELC’s allegations were true. (According to the State, Paterson has provided required occupational and physical therapy.) Corrective Action plans are now in place, although ELC regards them as “woefully inadequate” because “the DOE does not provide much guidance” and there is no news on whether or not the DOE plans to lift its hiring freeze.
The corrective action plans do seem a bit tepid. For example,
There is no dispute that do to staffing shortages the district did not meet the required timeframes for responding to referrals and conducting initial evaluations set forth…Therefore the district is determined noncompliant and corrective action is necessary. The district has already taken appropriate steps to hire appropriate staff and is working to address the backlog of new referrals/evaluations. The OSEP will continue to monitor the progress until all new referrals and evaluations are completed within the required timeframe.
Is the problem lack of money? Hard to say. According to DOE data, Paterson receives a total of $48 million in preschool aid plus another $14 million in Categorical Special Education Aid. There has been a big cut in Child Study Team services: appropriations for CST’s went from $12.7 million in 2009-2010 to $9.4 million in 2010-2011.
It’s the same problem that the Judge Peter Doyle of State Superior Court is currently mulling over in regards to the constitutionality of the State Funding Reform Act: do high-needs districts suffer from underachievement because of lack of cash or lack of accountability? In the case of Paterson’s preschoolers ELC maintains that the heart of the problem is the hiring freeze. From its press release:
The report and CAP [Corrective Action Plan] do not indicate whether the DOE plans to lift its September 14, 2010 freeze on all spending and hiring in the district, except in cases of health and safety. The State’s fiscal review of the district has not yet been completed, and the spending freeze remains in effect. The CAP does not indicate whether the DOE will provide additional resources to ensure that Paterson can comply with the law.
The State’s Complaint Investigation makes no mention of the need for more state aid, sticking firm to the argument that the problem is oversight. We await Judge Doyle’s ruling, which has as much to do with SFRA as it does with the woes of Paterson’s preschoolers.