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For first time, CPS plans more special ed cuts after school starts

Markay Winston, who heads the special ed department, insisted at the Chicago Board of Education meeting Tuesday that CPS will meet the needs of every child with an Individualized Education Plan. | Brian Jackson/For the Chicago Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools said Tuesday that it has 2,920 fewer children who are entitled to special education services so far this year than last year but cannot say whether those children progressed into general education classrooms or left the district.

CPS defended its proposed additional $12 million in cuts — on top of $42 million slashed in the summer — to the Board of Education as parents, teachers and students tried to rail against ever-dwindling resources for the neediest students.

Markay Winston, who heads the special ed department, which CPS calls the Office of Diverse Learner Supports and Services, said the new reductions are based on enrollment figures from the 10th day of school released late Friday evening by CPS.

Principals told the Chicago Sun-Times the new numbers blindsided them, especially since CPS had never before made special ed cuts after school started. Their protests led CPS to extend a deadline for principals to appeal their special ed losses from Tuesday until next Monday.

CPS said it found through some kind of internal examination that the district was overstaffing its special education students and cut hundreds of classroom aides.

Winston insisted that CPS will meet the needs of every child with an Individualized Education Plan, which spells out under federal law what services and attention each child needs and is entitled to. Using a graph with downward lines that indicate a decrease in students — but whose numbers showed an increase from June 2013 to June 2014, she said, “I believe we can be more efficient with how we allocate our limited resources.”

Winston said her team will return to affected schools in October to review and perhaps make more adjustments to their budgets.

The district has been piloting a program called All Means All, in which 102 schools are being given a set amount of money per special education student, so principals can decide how many teachers to spend it on. Schools have complained of losing money under it, but Winston said it would grant principals “greater autonomy” because “principals know their students best and know how to allocate resources.”

The Chicago Teachers Union was among numerous critics Tuesday who blamed CPS for balancing its budget — which is still $480 million short — on the backs of its most vulnerable children.

In a report titled “Special Education Services in Crisis at CPS,” the CTU noted 161 schools are losing teachers and 185 are losing aides.

SEIU Local 73 President Christine Boardman tells the board that CPS was already in a difficult situation with the U.S. Department of Education regarding special ed students. | Brian Jackson/For the Chicago Sun-Times

“Of the 40 schools that clawed back special education aide positions in August from the district, 21 of those schools have now lost aide positions in the 10th day cuts,” according to the CTU. “Across those 21 schools, more special education paraprofessional positions have now been cut than won back: 42 cut this week vs. 41.5 gained on net in August.”

SEIU Local 73 president Christine Boardman told the board that CPS was already in a difficult situation with the U.S. Department of Education regarding special ed students.

For example, Vaughn Occupational High School had 119 students last year who needed aides and 115 this year — but 21 have been laid off.

“That doesn’t seem to be meeting needs of diverse learners and special needs,” she said.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) warned the district against playing with the lives of children whose rights are protected under federal law in order to save money, saying that the cost of ”the lawsuits that will rain down upon us will cost far more than cuts.”

Even more people signed up to speak but were denied by Board Secretary Estella Beltran, who designated one person from each group or cause or school to talk for a maximum of 2 minutes. At least one registered speaker was removed from board chambers for insisting on being heard.

A CPS spokeswoman said board policy allowed for the guidelines regarding public participation “are subject to change at the Board President’s discretion.” She added: “The Board is committed to vigorous public discussion.”

CTU report on special ed cuts