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Special ed cuts won’t hurt students, Philly school officials say

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia School District laid off 157 special education classroom assistants and one-to-one aides last week in a move that officials say won’t negatively affect children.

School advocates in the legal community, though, remain highly dubious.

Chief Financial Officer Matt Stanski explained the District’s rationale to the School Reform Commission at a June 30 meeting.

"We believe we can maintain existing services for our special education students and, in fact, enhance them through management efficiencies and still see this expenditure reduction," Stanski said.

During his testimony, Stanski specifically thanked School Reform Commissioner Sylvia Simms, a former special-education bus attendant and founder of the advocacy group Parent Power.

"Her advice and support has led to significant savings in that area," he said.

The layoffs break down into two groups.

The first group is made up of positions that the District argues have been overcompensated based on a now-irrelevant "special assignment" designation. The District has invited those laid off in this category to reapply for less-lucrative positions as they become available.

The number of new open positions will depend on 2014-15 student enrollment.

With the "special assignment" designation, employees were earning more than $40,000. The reclassification will bring top salaries down to less than $30,000.

"Those individuals will have the qualifications that are necessary for those positions," said District spokesman Fernando Gallard.

He said that the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers wouldn’t allow the District to reclassify the positions without making layoffs.

"The only way to reclassify the salaries for these positions, unfortunately, was to move forward with the layoffs," he said.

The other group of layoffs concerns merging some one-to-one aide positions with special-education bus attendant positions.

"Instead of having two individuals doing two specific different jobs, we are combining the two jobs under one individual," Gallard said.

In total, the District’s 2014-15 budget includes $5.5 million in cuts to special education, $1.4 million of which comes from the reclassification of positions. The remainder comes from the mergers, as well as the elimination of 20 special-education teaching positions that had yet to be filled.

Despite the cuts, the District expects to meet the terms of every child’s legally mandated Individualized Education Program.

Gallard said the District is "100 percent committed" to providing students the services that their IEPs require.

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks