Las Vegas Sun

November 21, 2019

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Cram, consultants clash over report

Clark County School District Superintendent Brian Cram fears the recently released special education audit will spark "an absolute war" between parents on opposite ends of the special education debate.

And he isn't particularly happy with what he sees as "name-calling" by the authors of the audit report.

Cram said the consultants, David Rostetter and Ed Sontag, "basically are speculating that all resources should be moved to the school sites. The schools should have greater responsibility of testing, of placing students, of the evaluation of students, and to do away with cluster schools and special programs.

"This will result in an absolute war between parents who support the concept of special schools and special classes and special education, and those who do not," Cram said.

"I was surprised at how personal the report was. I felt like it reflected a mind, in some ways, of name-calling. I don't think that's acceptable on either side."

Rostetter and Sontag, whose audit identified more than $1 million in departmental waste, disputed Cram's assessment.

"Cram is scaring parents and inflaming the situation, trying to divert attention from the real problems," said Rostetter, noted nationally for his expertise in special education law and programs.

Sontag, who has worked with the federal special education division, added, "The audit is about priorities, management, morale and serving students and families. Better education is the key here."

One parent, Jolene McKay, has read the 140-page report and says she is confused by Cram's comments regarding closing special education schools.

"I'm frustrated that once this audit was complete that Brian Cram is still making comments about special schools being closed," McKay said. "The audit doesn't even talk about special education schools being closed."

McKay also is having problems with what she perceives as a lack of ownership for the problems. "I don't quite understand what Cram's position is. I'm frustrated with his comments and that he seems to take no responsibility."

Responsibility for CCSD's special ed problems is something School Board Vice President Lois Tarkanian says cannot be placed at the feet of just one person.

"It's (the responsibility) of a combination of all of us, but you have to look at which person or persons have the most authority to make change quickly," Tarkanian said. Responsibility, she says, rests with the board and the superintendent.

While Tarkanian has read through the report several times, she says in order to fully understand the lengthy document, "I have to go over it more. It's a very lengthy, detailed report."

That's a sentiment that School Board members Susan Brager, Howard Hollingsworth and James McMillan share with Tarkanian.

Board President Larry Mason and members Jeff Burr and Judy Witt could not be reached for comment.

The board has scheduled three public meetings to review and discuss the report. They are 10 a.m. Friday, 5:30 p.m. June 11 and 5:30 p.m. June 17 in the Education Center, 2832 E. Flamingo Road.

Tarkanian says her overall impression of the audit report "is that it brings up some points we need to look at, many of which have been brought up already by parents, but some of them I wasn't aware of."

Specifically, Tarkanian is concerned by the observations on Medicare and third-party billing, and discrepancies in the number of staff that attended a conference in Orlando, Fla., and what the total cost of the trip is.

The report cites one document that indicates seven staff attended the conference, another that indicates eight staff attended, and the auditors' assertion from a separate document that 13 staff attended the conference.

"I'd like to know where we have been spending money, and who has been approving it," Tarkanian said.

The audit recommended the elimination of Child Find, a program that identifies special education needs of CCSD students. Rostetter and Sontag criticized it for creating "an inordinate waiting list" for services.

The consultants suggested that resources could be decentralized to the campus level while streamlining administrative costs.

Cram says Child Find has been beneficial, especially to parents who are new to the district and are seeking special ed services. "There will be parents who will not necessarily agree with that decision. The major reaction will come from parents who have been in the special education classrooms."

Tarkanian said, "I'm not sure if (elimination) is what is needed. Susan Brager and I went out there last week and visited, and it has an excellent staff and is professionally run, but it's in one place. We're not being able to meet all the needs we have, so some of the children are waiting too long" for evaluations and placement recommendations.

Brager, who has a preschool-age grandchild who used Child Find, likes the program and advocates opening two more centers.

Brager says she doesn't agree with the report's recommendation of placing more children in the traditional classroom.

"We need Variety, (Helen J.) Stewart and (John F.) Miller (schools), and I think we should have three more regional centers," Brager said.

While Rostetter and Sontag lean toward the "inclusion" philosophy of putting special ed students into regular classrooms, they stopped short of making this recommendation in their report.

"Inclusion is not relevant to this audit," Sontag said. "It's outrageous to link this report with that."

Hollingsworth was disturbed by the audit's findings, and said, "It doesn't look good. Things got away from us a little bit.

"What happened is, we've been concentrating on other areas, such as being behind in technology and trying to step up our situation with problems with gangs. As a result we have let it go, there is no question. We should have gone to the experts eight years ago."

Brager sees the report as an opportunity to effect positive change within the district. "I don't look at this as a negative situation," she said. "You can make this a positive thing.

"I'm a solution person. I want to dissect it, ask questions of some people, and go from there."

Tarkanian says she "totally agrees" with Brager's outlook. "This was never supposed to be a negative thing. Let's look at ourselves and see what we can do and get it done."