Special education teachers say it's a common feeling: the students are gone for the day, and it's time for the real work to begin. But if they need to record something on a student's Individualized Education Program, it's probably too late.
Early efforts to curb overtime payments have now become policy, as the Department of Education reminds principals to keep staff members out of SESIS—the online system that tracks special education students—after the school day ends unless the principal has committed to pay for that time. The reminders were spurred by arbitration that ultimately cost the city $41 million in belated overtime to teachers and staff whose after-hours work violated union contracts.
For months, some principals have been looking for ways to give teachers more time during the day to work with the notoriously glitchy system (made more frustrating by slow school Internet speeds). But teachers and principals say that serious problems remain, as students' information is now updated more slowly, data entry takes time away from student interaction, and some teachers continue to work without pay.
"Is that the reality? Of course it's the reality," said Carmen Alvarez, the UFT's vice president for special education, of the continuing issues. "Do I like it? No. Did we tell it to the DOE three years ago in writing? Yes."
On Monday, Comptroller John Liu released an audit that turned the public's attention to the city's special education data system, which has received significant criticism in the past.
Last week, we spoke to Corinne Rello-Anselmi, the deputy chancellor of special education. I asked her about the most important initiatives in special education and she didn't mention the data system; rather, she talked about the bigger picture of special education in the city.
Here are some of the most interesting takeaways from our conversation.
How her personal experience led to a focus on the importance of inclusion in special education
Rello-Anselmi was appointed deputy chancellor in April 2012 after Laura Rodriguez, the first-ever deputy chancellor for special education, stepped down. It was a critical moment for special education policy in New York City, with reforms to the system just months from rolling out in full.
Rello-Anselmi joined central administration as a seasoned insider working in the field, having worked in city schools for 33 years. She began her teaching career at P.S. 108 in the Bronx as a self-contained special education teacher. Later, she served as principal of the school for ten years.
Liu at a press conference outside Tweed Courthouse, where he discussed Medicaid reimbursement for special education students.
New York City Comptroller John Liu’s audit into the city’s embattled special education data system, released today, hammered home well-established issues, but found few new problems with the three-year-old initiative.
Liu, who is running for mayor, instead used the occasion to highlight a challenge not mentioned in the audit — the city's ongoing struggle to get reimbursed for low income students with disabilities who are entitled to federal Medicaid dollars. Over the last two years, the city has collected just 25 percent, or $74 million, of the $284 million amount that the city had hoped to be reimbursed for, Liu said today at a press conference.
Liu took the finding from a city budget report published this spring. But he said that responsibility for the losses lies with the city's data system, which his audit criticized.
The data system, built to track 190,000 special education students with Individualized Education Plans, makes it "practically impossible" to file for reimbursements, Liu said, a claim that a city spokesman later disputed.
Schools began using the Special Education Student Information System (SESIS) in 2011 to keep better track of students with disabilities. School staff working with special education students are required to log information about all stages of their IEPs, including details about initial assessments, meetings with parents, services provided, and changes made to the plan.
The city doled out $38.5 million in back pay to schools staff who were wrongly required to work overtime on a buggy special education data system, according to payment details released today by the education department.
Nearly 30,000 therapists, special education teachers, paraprofessionals, guidance counselors, social workers and psychologists received the overtime payments this month after an independent arbitrator ruled in January that the Department of Education violated the United Federation of Teachers' contract. The first round of payments, on April 12, totaled $2.6 million for 1,700 occupational and physical therapists and the second and final payment — $35.9 million — went out to the rest of employees today.
The total number of educators who qualified for overtime far exceeded the UFT's estimates, which hovered at around 10,000. The UFT filed the labor complaint in mid-2011, charging that staff should not have been required to work outside of their contractual school day.
A new special education data system isn't as bad as its critics say, Chancellor Dennis Walcott told Bronx parents Tuesday night.
The chancellor acknowledged that the Special Education Student Information System was earning “mixed reactions” from educators, but he downplayed concerns that it was a “systemic” problem.
The web‐based system was created to track information about students with disabilities and is being rolled out this year, to massive complaints. Over the summer, SESIS was blamed for leaving some special needs students without school seats. Now, teachers are saying the system is extremely burdensome to use. As a compliance deadline approached last week, the union blasted the DOE for its “total incompetence” in managing the system rollout. In a separate email, UFT Secretary Michael Mendel called SESIS a “systemic problem that is affecting almost everyone who uses it in almost every school.”
Walcott voluntarily addressed those concerns and others last night at a meeting with District 7 parents in the Bronx. It was the first of many town hall‐style meetings that Walcott will host this year in accordance with a law that requires the chancellor to visit each of the city's 33 districts in a two‐year period.
At this meeting, held at The Laboratory School of Finance and Technology, Walcott answered questions about budget cuts, school closures, absent teacher reserve deployments, and class sizes. He brought SESIS up on his own.