A July report from the Texas Education Agency, released to the Herald last week, reveals dysfunction at the highest level of Killeen Independent School District’s special education department — in contrast to what was released at a school board workshop late this summer.
In March, TEA investigated the school district after compliance data relating to timely special education evaluations raised red flags. Per TEA’s request, the district developed a “corrective action plan” and presented this plan at a school board workshop in July — with few references to the TEA findings that got the district to this point.
“When I asked (Special Education Compliance Coordinator Amy Foster), ‘How do you keep track of the reasons for delayed (special education) evaluations?’ She said, ‘I just guess,’” said Judy Struve, TEA program manager. As one of TEA’s investigators, Struve visited Killeen ISD last spring to conduct a series of interviews with district staff.
TEA’s investigation found the district to be lacking a uniform system to track evaluations, inner-office conflicts and faulty data that resulted in delayed services for eligible special education students over the last seven years.
‘Numbers did not add up’
“The numbers did not add up,” Struve said. “What they reported wasn’t even actually what they had — once again showing that they did not have a good (tracking) system in place.”
Every year school districts must submit special education data to TEA in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Initially, Killeen ISD submitted data to TEA showing that half of the special education evaluations were not completed on time in 2014 — far below the state mandate of 100 percent compliance.
When reporting the reasons for the delayed evaluations, the district reported 715 out of 806 — 88 percent — were late either because of “scheduling problems” or a “lack of assessment personnel.”
TEA said these evaluation numbers did not match the district’s previous reports. In fact, they were off by 334.
Delayed evaluations result in potentially missed educational opportunities for the students awaiting testing.
The district claimed the initial data was inaccurate due to outdated software. When given the opportunity, the district was able to submit the new data to show a 90 percent compliance rate.
Lack of accountability
Neither former Special Education Director Lynn Young nor Foster took responsibility for the data inaccuracies and untimely responses during the TEA investigation, according to the report.
Young, as head of the special education department, claimed she was unaware data was submitted at all and placed blame on Foster — saying she “had waited until the last day to submit.”
When asked about the delayed evaluations, Foster said “everything could be contributed to lack of staff.”
Young denied the claims, saying Foster did not take the opportunity to ask her administrative assistant for help.
In response to requests for comment on the frequently cited “lack of staff” as reasons for these delays, district officials said, “TEA also indicated in the report that KISD special education staffing levels were comparable to staffing levels across the state. With that being said, the district continues to analyze staffing guidelines in relation to student needs.”
Currently, more than 20 special education positions in the district remain to be filled.
For the last nine years, the district repeatedly failed to provide timely answers to TEA requests for documentation regarding special education complaints, according to the report. In one case, the district took two years to complete a corrective action plan, despite TEA’s requests.
TEA cited “numerous special education complaints” and the difficulties agency staff faced in their efforts to investigate those complaints.
Since 2012, district officials said 45 TEA special education complaints were filed against the district and another 42 due process hearings were requested to date.
“They are a district that seems to have a lot of due process hearings and mediations,” Struve said. “The last several years it was hard for our complaints division to get responses back from them.”
In TEA’s questioning about the district’s failure to assist complaint investigations, Young blamed the “breakdown” on Foster, the compliance coordinator, claiming she did not allow nor ask for help — attributing the district’s delayed responses to Foster’s lack of organizational skills.
The district is in the process of hiring a new special education director and compliance coordinator.
Foster and Young left the district earlier this year — raising speculation as to whether their departure was partially due to the March TEA investigation.
“I believe (Superintendent John Craft) has held people accountable and we have had some resignations in that department,” school board President Terry Delano said. “I know he wants to get the right person this time; they are trying to be selective.”
In September, the district participated in the first required monthly phone call with TEA about the special education compliance action plan and particularly the district’s progress on this matter.
“They have reorganized that whole department, trying to make it more effective and efficient,” Struve said. “From what they told us on that first phone call, it’s working smoothly.”
Struve said the district is under “escalated oversight” by the agency. The district hired a special purpose monitor or special education consultant to get them on track.
“Prior to presenting the report, (Craft) called to talk about hiring a monitor right then,” Struve said. “That shows that he really wants to get things fixed.”
The district has a full year to make changes and correct the problems the TEA highlighted. If TEA is not satisfied with the results, or if the district does not comply after a year, harsh consequences could follow, Struve said.
“If they still didn’t get it corrected, we would put a conservator — which is like a monitor, but a conservator can actually direct the superintendent and the board,” she said. “There’s a menu of sanctions we would look at to get it fixed.”