State officials craft list of priorities for disabled city students

`Triage' plan follows order authorizing state to oversee special education

August 17, 2005|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

As state officials move to assume control over several troubled city school departments, they have come up with a priority list that will be their focus between now and the start of classes Aug. 29.

State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said yesterday the priorities are making sure that buses show up to transport disabled students and that schools have all the teachers, counselors and other specialists they need.

"It's kind of a triage," Grasmick said. "What are the most important areas for the opening of school?"

U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis issued an emergency order Friday authorizing the Maryland State Department of Education to manage special education in the city so that children with disabilities receive the services to which they are entitled in the coming academic year.

Garbis, who oversees a 21-year-old special-education lawsuit filed by students' lawyers against the city and the state, is allowing Grasmick to send managers into eight school system departments that affect special education, plus a lead administrator. Grasmick said she is looking to hire officials from other Maryland school systems for the nine administrative posts.

"We want them to understand how a functional Maryland school system operates with no lost time," she said.

City school board Chairman Brian Morris said yesterday that the school system has not decided whether to appeal Garbis' ruling. Grasmick said she and her staff are proceeding regardless of an appeal.

She said she hopes to have the lead administrator in place by the end of this week, though she had not decided who the person will be. The other eight administrators will be phased in over the next month.

Grasmick said she is considering about 15 candidates for the nine positions, and is looking for people who will commit to staying for at least the first two years of the five-year state intervention. The lead administrator will be paid $170,000 a year, and the other eight administrators will earn $150,000 each.

Carol Ann Baglin, Grasmick's assistant superintendent for special education, said the state's top priorities are transportation and personnel. She said state officials are hurriedly assessing whether the school system has enough buses for the first day of school, and how many teaching and specialist vacancies remain.

Baglin said the second phase of state intervention will focus on keeping better records, determining how to best use and track money for special education, and ensuring that disabled students have access to a quality curriculum.

The school system got into trouble with Garbis for its failures last school year to provide special-education students with speech therapy, counseling and other services to address their disabilities.

On Friday, the school system signed a consent agreement acknowledging that it is in contempt for its problems in providing such services. Under the agreement, accepted by all three parties in the lawsuit, Garbis will not hold a contempt hearing, and he will not impose fines, criminal charges or a contempt citation against any individual.

Under Garbis' order, the state must ensure that compensatory services are provided to children who were promised services over the summer but did not receive them.

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