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updated: 2/22/2013 12:34 AM

Dist. 25 special ed study creates concern

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Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 began what likely will be a several-year process of reviewing its special education program by hearing an outside report that was met with concern from board members as well as staff and parents on Thursday.

Futures Education, hired by District 25 to provide a comprehensive analysis of the district's special education program, presented its findings at Thursday night's board meeting. The report focused on the education services the district provides to special education students, the costs of those services as well as transportation.

According to the report, there are several ways the district should improve its consistency across buildings and grade levels in dealing with individualized education plans and teaching for special education students.

At least one board member questioned why the report tended to focus on cost-cutting measures, including an idea of cutting two buses to save $78,000 annually that would increase student time on buses.

Parent Bonnie Graham spoke out against the report and said she plans to file a complaint about it with the Illinois State Board of Education.

"We are not providing a free and appropriate public education and they know that," she said. "They did not vet this company at all."

She said she would like to see the district go back to square one and hire an appropriate, Illinois-based company to review the program.

Graham filed a Freedom of Information Act Request for the contract between District 25 and Futures Education, which in part stated, "The district will not be liable for payment of this fee if Futures is unable to assess at least $50,000 in savings," which she said points to the fact that cost-cutting was part of the district's goal in the review.

Board members and parents also questioned why Futures Education interviewed only 21 parents, several of whom said they didn't have enough notification about the interviews.

Representatives from Futures Education spent about 90 minutes presenting the report and answering criticisms of it from some board members, but they left the meeting before public comment.

The board was also dealing with rumors and fear among staffers and parents that the report would bring major changes or layoffs to the district -- which led to an audience of about 50 people at the meeting, including many members of the Arlington Teachers Association -- but board members said that is not true.

"It is not a blueprint for cutting staff; it is not a blueprint for anything," said board member Charles Williams. "Anyone who says anything else is spreading rumors and doing nothing but fear mongering."

Arlington Teachers Association President Peter Reckard said he was the one who told teachers to attend Thursday's meeting and that communicating about this process is part of his job. While two meetings are being scheduled with teachers to get their input, he said that hadn't been announced at the time he encouraged members to attend.

Moving forward, the district will form a committee of teachers, administrators, parents and other stakeholders to review the report and gather other data and information as they continue to review the special education program, said board President David Page. He said any changes likely are years away, except for following up on a suggestion in the report that could result in larger Medicaid reimbursements for expenses.

The district also will be holding two listening sessions to hear parent thoughts about the report: from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. today and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday, March 1, at the Dunton Administration Building, 1200 S. Dunton Ave.

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