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DCPS lays off 24 special ed staff

The District cut 24 staff from its "non public" special education unit Friday, in an effort to reduce one of its biggest expenses: transportation and private school tuition for special needs students, which cost about a quarter-billion dollars a year.

In a statement, DCPS said it will save about $1.2 million annually with the cuts, which involve staff that work on private placement for students whose needs cannot be met in D.C. public schools. Much of that is now handled by First Home Care, an outside contractor, the statement said.

It would appear that DCPS still has some cutting to do. An analysis by the office of Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi found that the system is facing a projected $30 million in overspending in the current fiscal year, primarily in special education at the public school level.The city is running a projected $175 million shortfall. Earlier this month, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty mandated $6.5 million in cuts, on top of a hiring freeze and a 10 percent reduction in supplies and materials. School officials have yet to say how they will deal with that directive.

Full DCPS statement on layoffs after the jump.

After more than six months of research and analysis, DCPS decided to restructure the nonpublic team to more effectively monitor and manage students sent to nonpublic special education schools.

Reorganizing the staffing of the nonpublic unit saves DCPS $1.2M annually, but requires the separation of the 24 employees tasked with finding appropriate nonpublic placements for our students. As we continue to strengthen our special education program, and become better able to meet the needs of our students placed in nonpublic sites, the necessity for such a unit decreases. While we were able to offer positions within the reorganized unit to five of the separated employees, the remaining responsibilities will be fulfilled by staff at First Home Care, an OSSE-referred contractor we began working with last fiscal year.

Streamlining our services in this way positions us to better serve the 2000 students who rely on our services, allows us to contribute to decreasing the $200M spent District-wide on nonpublic special education services and transportation, and enables us to better meet federal compliance regulations.

We believe all children, regardless of background or circumstance, can achieve at the highest levels, and remain committed to providing our students with the highest levels of service. This action does not affect the provision of services to students. To the contrary, streamlining our services provides us with the greater level of oversight needed to improve for the future.

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By Bill Turque  | October 22, 2010; 5:23 PM ET
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Next: Rhee's tough advice falls flat with some in Tampa


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Posted by: bm4711 | October 22, 2010 8:07 PM | Report abuse

"We believe all children, regardless of background or circumstance, can achieve at the highest levels, and remain committed to providing our students with the highest levels of service."

They never pass up an opportunity to recite the mantra, do they? Even when discussing children with developmental impairments that preclude them from attending public schools with their peers.

One wonders what else they believe. Can all students become high performing mathematicians? athletes? journalists? school administrators? If only they have highly effective teachers?

When are credible people in positions of power going to challenge these reformers on their unfounded, unproven beliefs?

Posted by: efavorite | October 22, 2010 8:12 PM | Report abuse

I think the federal government should be helping DC and other districts with special education. They passed the law that everyone had to be educated in the least restrictive environment but never funded the programs.These programs are necessary and worthwhile.

Correct me if I'm wrong about funding.

Posted by: celestun100 | October 23, 2010 2:24 AM | Report abuse

Bill, the way to make this article relevant is to tell us what the contractor is being paid to provide the same services. Otherwise this is useless information.

Reagan outsourced many affairs of government. People in the government quit started companies and charged millions more for doing the same job. The cost of running the government did not decrease.

Posted by: topryder1 | October 23, 2010 7:11 AM | Report abuse

efavorite: good point. Its one of my peeves with the so-called "leaders." They take on charismatic, cult-like personalities and recruit followers. They have mantras, doctrines, and beliefs, and think everyone should agree with them. Hogwash! A diversity of opinion and approaches is needed to go forward with education reform.

Though, ironically, I would agree that the local reform here in DC has helped to create a national debate about education and to raise awareness. Lots of people are following it and thinking about how to help.

Posted by: thetensionmakesitwork | October 23, 2010 8:37 AM | Report abuse

Wow, efavorite, that's a pretty cynical comment. "At the highest levels" might be a little simplistic (how about "higher levels"), but I think you're missing the message. And to your point about whether all children can be athletes? Well, maybe not, but all children can be BETTER athletes with the right playing and coaching. And most children can be BETTER students with the right teaching and curriculum, even if they don't achieve at some vaguely-defined "highest levels."

Here's an example. My husband, when he was a child, tried out for the basketball team at a large public middle school. He didn't make it. There were kids bigger than him, and better than him, since they had already been playing for many years.
He then moved, and enrolled in small, private high school, where if you wanted to play, you were on the team (even if it was JV). And guess what? With constant playing and expert coaching, he was eventually recruited for athletics by several colleges.

With your attitude guiding schools ("not everyone can be an athlete"), he would have never even had the chance.

Posted by: trace1 | October 23, 2010 9:10 AM | Report abuse

Efavorite is right. THe language used by school administrators to refer to their supposed hopes for special ed students is moronic. And Efavorite and I aren;t the cynical ones here, trace; the school administrators who mouth empty rhetoric that children with, for example, Fragile X syndrome, can achieve "at the highest levels" (their words, not the less idiotic words trace put in their mouth) while ignoring their actual needs, are the true cynics, not to mention villains who do actual damage to these children. To keep their jobs, they master the rhetoric and keep running these children the same old, ineffective process, with no thought of how poorly served these children are.

Posted by: burntnorton | October 23, 2010 9:39 AM | Report abuse

trace1 -- you have in a kind, unnecessarily polite way, captured the extremely negative approach that is snuffing change, sheltering already highly-protected teachers who resist taking responsibility for anything, and contributing directly to stealing public educations from The Children, who need it most.

Posted by: axolotl | October 23, 2010 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Perhaps it would be better if our officials would talk about students reaching the highest level they are capable of, rather than saying the highest level. People have different gifts and talents. Some will always be higher than others in science or math or English. And people will always out perform others in their areas of giftedness.

Posted by: jlp19 | October 23, 2010 11:33 AM | Report abuse

I do think the big issue is how much does First Home Care cost, and what is the quality of their work. It could be that First Home Care charges more (or the same), or does lower quality work.

Also - Does First Home Care have any personal connections with the people who hired them?

Posted by: jlp19 | October 23, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

"We believe all children, regardless of background or circumstance, can achieve at the 'highest levels'...."
Honesty is preferable; at least substitute 'higher' for highest (as trace1 suggested)or 'personal best',etc., something that does not defy basic logic.


"To the contrary, streamlining our services provides us with the greater level of oversight needed to improve for the future."

This seems an illogical statement as well,
particularly when eliminating such a high number of positions in one fell swoop as opposed to a graduated transfer of responsibilities to an outside contractor. A lot of those people in the eliminated positions carry a certain amount of history with them, history that is likely valuable.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | October 23, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Cutting 24 positions (and contracting out the services performed by these staff) saves $1.2 million ?? "And now, for my next trick...."

Posted by: cka1955 | October 23, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

"Much of that is now handled by First Home Care, an outside contractor,..."

It sounds to me like over 6 months, while this was being studied, they contracted out the services and are now cutting the duplicate services that would be performed by the staff members cut. A logical next step.

As previously commented on, it would be nice to know the amount of the contract that replaces these cut staff, and a performance evaluation (are they doing it equivalently, or maybe better?).

Posted by: streff | October 23, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Was the job put up for competitive bid? What (if any) connection is there between First Home Care and whoever made final contracting decision? And can somebody show us how this change (or these cuts) result in $1,200,000 in savings.......

Posted by: cka1955 | October 23, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

An even grimmer question - where and why is First Care now "placing" these children?

Is everybody imagining a great non-profit special education school, like the ones wealthy people can choose for their cerebral palsey and epileptic children? I wish it were so.

Here is another instance where Post education writers should disclose their employers for-profit financial interest in vending online and "private" special education products, through Kaplan K12 and other brands they have been buying up since their own got so tarnished by the GAO investigations.

Kaplan Higher Education lied to desperate low-income job seekers, and charged them $50,000 for useless online versions of a culinary certificate, when they could have gotten the real one for $8000 at their local community college. They defrauded the the students out of hundreds of millions in taxpayer-secured loans for their bogus programs.

All that time, the Post writers were railing against the tax cost of access to community college for "unqualified" low-income students who took one or two remedial courses. imagine how well special education students are faring in their hands, at their mercy, with no public oversight.

Bill Turque - I did ask you to cover the special education investigations for that very reason. I appreciate that you have stood up at least this far, but now REPORT the details we can't get to. Follow the money. Investigate.

Posted by: mport84 | October 23, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Firing Sped as soon as Rhee has gone is the FIRST sign of Gray's incompetence. Trust me. Cruel as she was, she knew to leave special ed to someone else who knew how to do it right. Jesus, here we go back to the years of Marion Berry all over again. I might as well get my materials stamped, locked, and photocopied while I can. Who knows what moron may be heading the sped department in. DCCAS cannot be passed by EASY ESSAY BM4711. DCCAS is a McGraw-Hill Company that makes money to pull DCPS noses to make you learn just enough to come back for more so you can always lust for more. Unlike more enlightened states, DC has not caught on yet. Sad, I know. On the other side, DC State of Education's past secretary of Education Gist, a complete and utter idiot, took away MOST accommodations for sped kids during standardized testing so EASY ESSAY would not be considered a valid tool in DC. Sad, again, right? I know. Wine, anyone?

Posted by: inickdc | October 23, 2010 6:30 PM | Report abuse


I believe you're getting to the heart of the matter. First Home Care was referred to DCPS by OSSE. The superintendent of OSSE, whom Fenty recruited from the ranks of the previous Bush administration, as you may recall, resigned abruptly with a day's notice, the day after the primary election, and has accepted a position with the George W. Bush library, according to reports in this esteemed newspaper.

Is there anyone who does not believe that this First Home Care contract should be closely vetted? The OSSE official responsible for putting the organization in place is gone, and we're about to lose the DCPS person on the receiving end, Ms. Rhee. Can we really rely on any of these two sources to offer transparency on this issue when they no longer can be held accountable?

I'm no great fan of most of those supervisors in the special education department at DCPS, but at least they have institutional knowledge that could be valuable to Gray, as he seeks to reform that entire department. Their firings could be Rhee's plan to move them out of place so that they do not become a source of valuable information for a Gray administration, which is likely to exercise far more oversight over DCPS than the previous Mayor.

I believe that the cuts should have started with those 13 new Instructional Superintendents (IS), whose efforts could only duplicate those of the ISs already in place! Their only purpose is to go into the schools and manipulate the principals and intimidate the teachers, at least that was likely the plan under the Fenty-Rhee regime. These ISs cannot, and will not, keep DCPS compliant relative to special education law. The 24 folks from the special education department can do that for the majority of special needs students in the schools whose needs are not being met, yes, even under Rhee's watch. Every SPED child in the local public schools, thus, is a potential lawsuit waiting to happen and, ultimately, another private placement for which we will have to pay six figures a year in tuition in the near future. We also would be obliged to spend countless more dollars on sending the buses into Maryland and Virginia to shuttle them to locales to receive the private school instruction.

Can we just agree that Rhee never had a clue how to address the special education issues in DCPS? This latest decision of hers proves that. Or worse, it proves that she does not care about them, which actually would be consistent with her hypocrisy.

We need to remember that the students in private placements are a relatively small percentage of ALL special education students. Focusing on the students in private placements alone will not improve the delivery of service to ALL special needs students. Until we have a sophisticated system of delivering special education services to ALL SPED children, we will continue to send students to private placements and will continue to be a cash cow for contractors like First Home Care.

Posted by: vscribe | October 23, 2010 6:33 PM | Report abuse

"We believe all children, regardless of background or circumstance, can achieve at the highest levels, and remain committed to providing our students with the highest levels of service."

They never pass up an opportunity to recite the mantra, do they? Even when discussing children with developmental impairments that preclude them from attending public schools with their peers.

One wonders what else they believe. Can all students become high performing mathematicians? athletes? journalists? school administrators? If only they have highly effective teachers?

When are credible people in positions of power going to challenge these reformers on their unfounded, unproven beliefs?

Posted by: efavorite | October 22, 2010 8:12 PM
Wow efavorite what a cynical post. All children cannot become the best student or athletes but the least we can do is give them the oppurtunity. Give them the chance.

Posted by: 6thsense79 | October 23, 2010 6:37 PM | Report abuse

wait a second! 2000 students and 200M dollars? that comes up to $100,000 per student! where are these students studying? - Harvard? Yale? Where?

Posted by: thor2 | October 23, 2010 9:28 PM | Report abuse

inickdc says, "Firing Sped as soon as Rhee has gone is the FIRST sign of Gray's incompetence"

Rhee is not gone yet and Gray is not yet mayor. He's not even the mayor-elect.

Posted by: efavorite | October 23, 2010 9:35 PM | Report abuse

sixthsense79 says, "All children cannot become the best student or athletes but the least we can do is give them the oppurtunity. Give them the chance."

I think that you and I are in complete agreement. All children should have the chance to be whatever they can be or want to be.

It's ridiculous to think that all children can be manipulated to be exactly the same, simply based on the education they receive. Children have different personalities, different interests, and different obstacles and opportunities in their lives.

Posted by: efavorite | October 23, 2010 9:46 PM | Report abuse

Why does DCPS continue to contract out services it already is doing, especially to agencies that either do not have the expertise or are from outside the local area?

This is not reform. Contracting out services and shuffling the money from one pot to another is not the same as improving services.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | October 23, 2010 10:30 PM | Report abuse

>>>wait a second! 2000 students and 200M dollars? that comes up to $100,000 per student! where are these students studying? - Harvard? Yale? Where?

That's the real shocker right?! And yet their are councilmembers who want to raise taxes while we're getting hosed like this.

Posted by: jeffcoud2 | October 23, 2010 10:42 PM | Report abuse

Inickdc, you are so anxious to make so brownie points that you seem the fool. Gray is not in office, Fenty and Rhee are still in charge of DCPS, they ordered the cuts. Stop being a clown.

Posted by: topryder1 | October 24, 2010 8:46 AM | Report abuse

Jeffcoud2, Special education services are mandated by the government according to the level of the student's disability, so that is one of the reasons the costs are so high. Some students are required to have "one on one" teaching. Some students physical disabilities are so significant they require a person and and a half, to assist them through the day, in addition to people who are certified to provide medicataions as needed. So it is not as simple as you would like to make it. Some students require physical therapists and speech therapists also. Please become informed before you become outraged.

Posted by: topryder1 | October 24, 2010 8:53 AM | Report abuse

Gray was fully consulted about this move, if for no other reason than his chairmanship of the City Council.

Posted by: axolotl | October 24, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

I teach a number of "special ed" students, and my goal for them is the same as it is for all my students. I want them to reach their highest level. I am not a doctor prescribing their future, but a teacher working to improve their skills and tease their minds. The reach is as important as the destination, and the hardest to maintain. I again ask your readers to visit my blog at

Posted by: dcproud1 | October 24, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

I wish you all would not be so hard on efavorite. At least she is being honest about her position. She thinks that some children, because of their home life, income levels, "interests," etc cannot do grade level work. Of course, sensible people disagree, but at least she is coming out and saying what SOOOOOOO many others in the WTU would like to say, but can't.

I'm sure glad most of my teachers expected and demanded that every student (not just the ones with involved or wealthy parents) met grade level standards.

By the way, I teach students with disabilities, and my goal for them is still 100% proficiency.

Posted by: alertcitizen1 | October 24, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

100% proficiency is not "at the highest level" - it's just passing. "Their highest level" is an individual measure, based on individual abilities, interests and motivations.

The highest level is 100% for everyone at everything.

It's ridiculous. It's an insult to kids to imply that they are all alike, just awaiting the right magical teacher to make them all achieve at the highest levels.

It makes failures of kids and their teachers, no matter how hard they try.

Posted by: efavorite | October 24, 2010 11:48 PM | Report abuse

efave...i loved your "mantra" comment. i seriously was laughing so hard with the truth of it!
the sad part of it all is, that so many people in DCPS are afraid to open their mouths to all of the injustices and say anything...

Posted by: cosnowflake | October 25, 2010 6:51 AM | Report abuse

thank you cosnowflake --

And to make it clear -- I'm applying that reasoning to all students, not just special ed.

I think all students deserve access to education that will meet their needs. This requires awareness of their differences and acknowledgement that they are not just achievement machines waiting for a highly effective teacher to turn them into perfect students according to a strict adult measure.

To me, it's truly putting adults first to assume that all it takes is a highly effective teacher for all kids to succeed according to the one strict measure that certain adults have set.

Posted by: efavorite | October 25, 2010 8:40 AM | Report abuse

So true!! Most teachers seem to agree with the fact that it takes more than just being "highly effective."

The whole shame in all of this mess is that DCPS will be losing many teachers not only due to IMPACT or another type of mass firing due to budgetary constraints, but many of us will leave due to having enough of dealing with the incompetant mess that we deal with on a daily basis.

Posted by: cosnowflake | October 25, 2010 8:56 AM | Report abuse

jlp19-- Yes, there are personal connections and the placement specialists that work with FIrst Home Care earn the same amount of money as DCPS hired employees. The former, in my opinion and experience, are harder to work with since they technically do not HAVE to answer to DCPS.

This may be a good step towards correcting the issues with the non-public office, that is, having to bring back all those students since they were not placed in the least restrictive environment.

Then again, promoting and hiring is in full force at DCPS still, so where does the budget cut come into place? Oh yes, does the article mention that the placement specialist position turned into a performance based position? If placement specialists were not able to bring back a certain amount of students they would be fired.

Posted by: Wisdom111 | October 25, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

mport84- The students are actually placed in very nice schools (i should know i worked with the non-public office), however because the schools are not necessarily tied to DCPS there is very little accountability. Unfortunately, some, not all, placement specialists did not keep up with their appointees. However, i did notice that some parents were placing their children in more expensive private schools and by law, DCPS is required to pay for those placements.

nickdc- I don't believe this one can be blamed on Gray. There have been several meetings with the public and Richard Nyankori addressing the incompetence of the Special Education department and the steps to correct the incompetencies. One plan that wasn't released to the general public was the plan to bring back at least half of the placements by a certain time in the Fall semester. This plan affected Placement Specialists and their Program Managers, however it directly effected the placement specialists as it turned the position into a performance based position. Basically, bring back 20 students by X date or you're fired.

Now, there are several contractors that work for this external org so that is nothing new to DCPS. The question is whether they were among the 24 that were fired.

Posted by: Wisdom111 | October 25, 2010 10:40 AM | Report abuse

"many of us will leave due to having enough of dealing with the incompetent mess that we deal with on a daily basis."

And I fear that is music to the ears of reformers who want to get rid of current teachers to replace them with inexperienced, untrained recent grads who do not plan to make a career out of teaching.

The Economic Policy Institute said something similar in its recent "Statement on Education"

"Adopting an invalid teacher evaluation system and tying it to rewards and sanctions is likely to lead to inaccurate personnel decisions and to demoralize teachers, causing talented teachers to avoid high-needs students and schools, or to leave the profession entirely, and discouraging potentially effective teachers from entering it. Educational outcomes will suffer as a consequence."

Reformers might interpret that as an indication that their plan is working.

Posted by: efavorite | October 25, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

you are totally right. however, i was hired here two years ago after teaching for more than ten years with wonderful evals in another place.

i know that not all things are perfect, but i also know that i cannot live in constant daily fear of losing my job. the way the reformers are, they do not seem to care, even though we were hired for some reason because someone realized we were highly qualified...

Posted by: cosnowflake | October 25, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

As usual the short and narrow minded like to look at the world within their own limited spectrum of reality. Efavorite makes a good point.

On another note I will pose the question again, "why can't DCPS utilize some of it's existing excess capacity and open its own Special Education Centers to serve the needs of DC students?" Turque finally prints that it costs DC "about a quarter-billion dollars a year". L&G's that $250 million big ones each and every year paid to local private schools and to transport less than 3000 students. The $250 million is close to 1/3rd of the DCPS general operating budget. Yes, that much for 3000 kids. Yet, we should applaud a $1.2 million savings by cutting 24 positions which have been contracted out?

Folks this is a farce and habitual poor management on the part of DCPS. The decades of waste in DCPS Special Education is criminal. The truth of the matter is (1) DCPS has not adequately staffed to meet the needs of these kids for decades. since they are not even staffed to meet the needs of the kids, the kids are not receiving the schedules amount of services. thus DCPS is sued and sued again, and the kids is placed in a private school that is smaller and provides the services prescribed. Needless to say, the regional education economy and legal community have grown accustomed to millions in DC government dollars in their coffers. this is the fleecing of the government.

Posted by: oknow1 | October 25, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

oknow1 -- I agree w your characterization of the combo of sped special interests and the incompetence of DCPS, which leaves the District open to the crazy drain of its budget.

How would you break the stranglehold of the sped special interests on the DCPS and all citizens of the District?

I am stumped. The mix of the unionistas, plus the career DCPS managers plus the politicians (Fenty, Gray, Barry -- it does not matter in the sped arena) = paralysis. The kids get crappy sped, and all the other students and their parents get robbed of gajillions of dollars.

It is unclear what Vince Gray will do in this area. Your suggestions would be appreciated.

Posted by: axolotl | October 25, 2010 7:55 PM | Report abuse

Hey lets hold administrators accountable for school success like we plan to do with teachers. Our students are being discriminated at these schools. Students like SPED, ESL and African Americans. In fact the Office of Civil Rights, Dept. of Education recently found Oyster-Adams Bilingual school to discriminate against ESL and African American students. It appears Michelle Rhee appointed the principal at this school and despite these findings she did not fire the principal. Lets be fair. Lets fire ineffective teachers but also ineffective principals even though they may be friends of the chancellor. Schools are there to service students not support ineffective adults with glorified positions and a salary. It's about the students...not about the adults.

Posted by: amayarod | October 26, 2010 9:37 AM | Report abuse


It is "Barry" not "Berry". So eager to make a senseless point that you cannot get the simplest of facts straight.

Posted by: dccounselor72 | October 27, 2010 7:56 AM | Report abuse

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