After nearly an hour of often-emotional parent testimony about the district’s special education services Monday, the Killeen Independent School District board neither addressed the parents’ concerns nor offered apologies.
Instead, the board deferred comments about deficiencies to a spokesman for the consulting firm that audited the district’s special education program.
Frustrated parents of special-needs children, teachers and three school board candidates addressed the Killeen ISD school board Monday, raising concerns about the findings of the newly released special education audit.
The district released the special education audit report to the media late Friday. On Monday, Greg Gibson, president of Gibson Consulting Group, presented the same special education findings to the board.
The audit found Killeen ISD’s special education program to be in need of a “major overhaul.”
“We fight for (least restrictive environment) everyday,” said Laura Thomas, a parent of a special-needs Killeen ISD student. “He deserves to be in a classroom with non-disabled peers. When we moved here, they threw out our (individualized education plan). ... As a veteran and current military spouse, I am so angry that I was forced to move here and go through this. This is terrible; shame on you.”
Specifically, the audit report found Killeen’s special education program lacks accountability measures, efficient staffing numbers and district-wide program consistency. Also, the audit found, the district held back more special education students than the state average and has fewer teachers per student than the state.
Board audit committee member Shelley Wells proposed the administration put in place quarterly check-ins with the board audit committee.
“(Gibson) has identified some very serious areas of concern and I would ask the administration to address every single one of those and take that information that is given and improve our special education program,” Wells said.
Chief among the issues parents addressed Monday was the need for adequate, equal special education services.
“My son has been described as nothing but happy, fun, go-lucky… (then) he wouldn’t even leave my house,” said Angela Garvin, a mother a former Killeen ISD student. “He would fall at the floor of your school because he did not want to go in. My son lasted nine days in your district. Nine days. In nine days, my family was losing our son. ... This situation has continued long enough. Either help or get out of the way.”
The school district serves about 5,000 special-needs students; of that number, 37 percent are children of military servicemen and women stationed at Fort Hood.
Killeen Educators Association President Rick Beaule was accompanied to Monday’s meeting by statewide Texas State Teachers Association president Noel Candelaria and many Killeen ISD educators.
“It all starts with you,” Beaule said. “And with the goals and priorities, and yes, the moralities set forth in the budget you create and approve. We know from the audit report that we are not there yet; that the work to repair and rebuild the Special Education Department is far from done. As you continue your budget deliberations, we respectfully ask all persons on the dais to resist the temptation to adopt a ‘hold the line’ mentality.”
Under the district’s policy, board members are unable to respond to items discussed during a public forum. However, school board member Susan Jones did respond to one commenter.
“To the gentlemen’s question about why an audit,” Jones said, “We are very limited in our ability to dig around in the administration. The only way for us to verify that data is to hire an external auditing firm to work for us. ... Mr. Gibson’s firm works directly for the board.”
Jones later added, “We should have an assessment audit in a year.”
Gibson relayed his major findings to the board Monday: Special education students receive disciplinary placements — in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension and disciplinary alternative education program — at higher rates than general education students. Special education students are placed in restrictive environments at a higher rate than other comparable districts.
The district also spends less money per special education child than state average. The reason for this finding, Gibson explained, was due to the large population of special education students.
Gibson also cited the high special education population for another one of the audit’s findings.
“The larger the ratio, the fewer number teachers relative to the student population,” he said.
Co-teaching, more inclusion, staff increases and reallocations, reorganization of department duties, and increased data integrity controls were some of the suggested ways, Gibson suggested to turn the tables of the special education department.
At the end, Superintendent John Craft thanked those involved in the audit.
“All of these points and then some will be taken into consideration,” Craft said. “I appreciate the thoroughness and all the efforts of all involved.”